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Five tastes refer to pungent, sweet, sour, salty and bitter (辛、甘、酸、鹹、苦). Herbs of each taste have certain common medicinal effects on the body and hence this type of grouping. For instance, herbs that are pungent tend to improve the flow of Qi and Blood. Sweet herbs can tonify conditions of deficiency.Sour herbs can constrain and strengthen and are used to treat symptoms of excessive sweating and diarrhea. Salty herbs can facilitate the bowel and soften lumps and are often used to treat constipation, tumors or cancers.
Foods can have similar taste properties and each type affects the body in a very similar fashion. This is the foundation of Chinese dietary therapy, which forms an important part of the treatments in additional to acupuncture and Chinese herbs.