Tongue Diagnosis in Oriental Medicine


This is the first in a series of articles explaining the theories, the herbal formulas and diagnostic tools used in Oriental Medicine to heal. The medical application of tongue diagnosis is very old.  The earliest records are inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells unearthed during the Yi Dynasty; the first dynasty of the Bronze Age. Ancient Chinese physicians developed a special way of approaching the diagnosis of diseases through four types pf physical examination:  inspection, questioning, smelling, and listening.  In addition to taking the pulse, palpation of the abdomen, and tongue diagnosis an inspection of the features of the tongue to aid in disease diagnosis were very important.

Tongue diagnosis plays a most important role in the four methods of TCM diagnosis.  Many ancient doctors regarded the tongue as the “window of the Heart”, also the location for external expression of the digestive system.  Many main acupuncture meridians are connected to the tongue, making it an important site for diagnostic examination.  All internal changes in the body, visceral deficiencies or excess, weather disease conditions are mild or advanced, weather body fluids are full or deficient, weather the Qi (energy) or blood are healthy or in decline, can be objectively reflected by the changes on the tongue.

Some of the clinical applications of the tongue are as follows: 
The tongue has two aspects the coating and the body.  The coating reflects the amount of Qi (energy) activity in the body as it relates to the exterior of the body, cold and flu, and the digestive system.  If there is a pathogen of environmental toxin attacking the body the coating becomes thicker. Moreover, if there is stagnation in the digestive system the coating will also appear thicker.  A thick coating on the tongue indicates accumulation of dampness, phlegm, or food. 

The body of the tongue represents the interior aspects of the body, the organ and the blood. When the body becomes weakened due to improper diet, stress, not enough sleep, medications, etc., the tongue will lose its coating representing a lack of Qi or nutrition.  When the tongue has no coating and it is red and cracked the body is hot and dry of fluid deficiency, just like a mud puddle or a river bed that dries up in the hot sun. The body needs foods and herbs to cool and moisten the body.   Conversely, if the tongue looks pale with not coating the body is cold and deficiency.  The body is lacking warmth and needs warming herbs and foods.

If you would like to have an online tongue diagnosis just contact me at

To Your Health
Professor Drew
New York Institute of Herbal Medicine & Nutrition

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