The Four Qi (Temperatures)

Each herb or food has its own Qi, or temperature:

  • Hot
  • Warm
  • Cool
  • Cold

Hot and cold herbs have an opposite nature, corresponding to Yang and Yin. 

Warm and cool herbs share the same natures as hot and cold, but to a lesser degree.

Herbs classified as neutral are neither hot nor cold.

The warming and cooling properties of foods and herbs depend on several qualities, and may change substantially with the part of the plant or animal used, the nature of preparation, even when, where, or how it was raised and harvested.


Cooling foods direct the body’s energy and fluids inward and lower.  Therefore, the exterior and upper portions of the body cool first.

Warming foods direct energy and blood up and out to the surface of the body.

General Patterns

  • Plants that take longer to grow are more warming than those that grow quickly.
  • Chemically fertilized plants tend to be more cooling.
  • Raw food is more cooling than cooked food.
  • Food eaten at a cooler temperature is more cooling.
  • Foods with blue, green, or purple colors are usually more cooling than similar foods that are red, orange, or yellow.
  • Cooking methods that require more time, higher temperatures, and more dryness give foods a more warming quality.
  • Breaking foods down into smaller pieces will give it a more warming quality.  Chewing food thoroughly increases its warmth.
  • Native foods tend to have warming or cooling properties appropriate to the location.  For example, tropical fruits, such as mango and papaya, are more cooling than temperate fruits, such as apple and grape.

In Clinical Practice:

Hot or warm herbs are used to warm the body and treat Cold syndromes.  Example: Gan Jiang, dried ginger root, warms the middle Jiao and treats abdominal cramps and diarrhea.

Cold or cool herbs are used to clear Heat and treat Heat syndromes.  Example: Bo He, mint, treat itchy rashes due to Wind-Heat, and clears Heat from the throat.

Cold Foods

Bamboo shoot, chrysanthemum, bitter gourd, lotus root, water chestnut, root of kudzu, sugar cane, tomato, watermelon, banana, pomelo, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, seaweed, kelp, cuttlefish, crab, sea clams, snails, pig’s bone marrow, sprouts, water spinach, watercress, lettuces, salt and soy sauce.

Cool Foods

Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, coix seed (job’s tears), eggplant, cucumber, Chinese radish, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, pea, mung bean, pears, muskmelon, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, mango, papaya, green tea, bean curd, mushrooms, duck egg, egg white, rabbit meat, conch, frogs, sesame oil, cream, yogurt and cheese.

Neutral Foods

Round-grained rice, corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, turnips, carrot, cabbage, beetroot, soybeans, adzuki beans, peanut, cashew nut, pistachio nut, black sesame, sunflower seed, plums, fig, grapes, lemon, olives, shiitake mushroom, duck, goose, oyster, beef, quail, sea eels, egg yolk, quail egg, honey, milk, soybean milk.

Warm Foods

Coriander, Chinese chives, onion, leeks, green onion, asparagus, sweet peppers, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, litchi, longan fruit, raspberry, chestnut, pumpkin, glutinous rice, dates, walnut, pine nut, mussels, fresh water eels, carp, abalone, lobster, chicken, mutton, venison, goat milk, goose egg, maltose, brown sugar, cumin, clove, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh), dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, sweet basil, coffee, vinegar, wine, rose bud.

Hot Foods

Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger(dried), chili pepper, and mustard seed.