“They would suppose that there is some principle harmful to man; heat or cold, wetness or dryness, and that the right way to bring about cures is to correct cold with warmth, or dryness with moisture and so on…These are the causes of disease, and the remedy lies in the application of the opposite principle according to the hypothesis.”

– Hippocrates

Herbalism is more complex than just using an herb with a specific action to heal a specific disease. While knowing these aspects is a good start, to deepen your knowledge and understanding, it’s important to have a good grasp on the other elements as well. Subscribers to Herbal Roots zine will note that I have added the tastes and energetics of herbs to my “All About” section of each issue. Today I’m going to be discussing the tissue states and how the energetics of herbs relate to them. I will be covering the tastes next month. By learning these important aspects of herbs as you and your children learn the herbs themselves, you will be adding another layer of understanding to your knowledge of herbs and be able to better apply them to individuals.

If you have never heard about the tissue states and herbal energetics, do not let them intimidate you. Even if you have heard of them, you may still find yourself struggling with them and that’s alright too. The point is to start thinking about them when you think about herbs and how they can be applied. The more familiar you become with these concepts, the more understandable they will become. 

A bit of history

The knowledge and use of energetics in herbal medicine is not something new. Traditional Chinese, Greek, Ayurvedic, Native American medicine, etc. all have their own energetic systems. Terms like doshas, elements, qualities, humors, temperaments and directions are all common vocabulary used to describe these systems. Western herbalism also had a system but the terms became unrecognizable as time went on and terms were changed. Modern Western herbalists have worked to decipher these energetics and make them easy to understand.

Making sense of it all

What are energetics? They are our way of describing energy patterns in the body. While modern biomedicine looks at the molecular structure to try to heal, holistic medicine tries to return the body to a state of balance to allow healing to occur naturally. Holistic medicine is based on the knowledge that an organism (the body) is a fully functioning unit, able to self-regulate and self-correct the energy or life force of the body. Because of this basis, holistic medicine sees the organism as having the ability to be cured or returned to homeostasis or a state of balance.

Contrary to this, modern medicine focuses on removing or replacing the imbalance through pharmaceutical medicine and/or surgery. While modern medicine seeks to suppress the symptoms without necessarily focusing on the cause, holistic medicine seeks to go to the cause of the disease and return the body to health, easing the symptoms in the process.

Because of our familiarity with how modern medicine works, it is often a common mistake to try to apply herbs in the same way. Once we understand how herbs work and learn to apply the systems to this concept, we have a better chance of using herbs to make a difference with healing.

Tissue states

So what are tissue states? Tissue states refer to our bodies and the symptoms they are presenting, what the condition of the tissues are. There are 6 tissue states: hot, cold, dry, damp, lax and tense. Hot and cold refer to the metabolism, with hot being overactive and cold, underactive. Dry and damp refer to the moisture in our bodies, dry referring to a deficiency in moisture, damp indicating an excess. The final two, lax and tense refer to the tone of the body. Sometimes you will see lax listed as ‘relaxed’ which refers to atony (muscle weakness) while tense refers to spastic tone. So, when we are looking at herbs to match with illnesses, we want to find an herb that will balance out the imbalance. For instance, if someone has a hot condition, we will want to give them cooling herbs.

Let’s look at these 6 tissue states a bit more closely. Please note that herbs can fall into more than one category and sometimes be seemingly contradictory to themselves.



Shown through excitation, irritation, stimulation

Signs of heat include: Inflammation due to overreaction,  exaggeration of function, autoimmune overreaction (not from injury or infection), heat, redness, swelling, pain, tenderness

Herbal energetics needed: Cooling, refreshing, calming, sedating, pain relieving (anodyne)

Herbs to dispel heat: RoseAppleHawthornPeachWild Cherry, Strawberry, BlackberryRaspberryHoneysuckleElderCrampbarkLemon, Lime, Peppermint, Spearmint, Lemon BalmLavenderYarrow

How to demonstrate cooling herbs: Try drinking Peppermint tea on a hot summer day

Ginger root


Shown through depression

Signs of coldness include: Deep cold, cold hands and feet, pale tissues – may be white, grey, blue, purple or black in color, showing lessened oxygenation, lack of sensation or function, tissues may fail to respond to stimulation, skin is inactive: lack of perspiration, lack of natural oils

Herbal energetics needed: Warming, stimulating, opening the pores, aromatics, antiseptics

Herbs to dispel cold: Arnica, CalendulaEchinaceaGoldenrod, Daisy Fleabane, Wormwood, Sweet Annie, SageRosemaryThymeBasil, Hyssop, Bergamot, Oregano, Angelica, Osha, Dill, Fennel, Mustard, Horseradish, Shepherd’s Purse, Melilot, Alfalfa, Red CloverGingerTurmericPine

How to demonstrate warming herbs: Cut a small sliver of fresh Ginger root and suck on it



Shown through atrophy (wasting away)

Signs of dryness include: Lack of moisture in tissues, a weakened state, lack of tissue function, hair loss, bloating, gas, constipation, hard bowel movements, thin tongue, tissues dry, withered and wrinkled

Herbal energetics needed: Moistening, softening, appetite stimulant, nutritive, mucilaginous, oily, emollient, demulcent, salty

Herbs to dispel dryness: Marshmallow, Shepherd’s Purse, MulleinNettlesBurdock root, Dandelion root, Slippery ElmComfrey, Fenugreek, Angelica root, Evening PrimroseBorage, American Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng, Codonopsis, Rehmannia root, Red Root, Mushrooms

How to demonstrate moistening herbs: Mix a bit of Marshmallow or Slippery elm with some water to make a gruel. The gruel will be sweet tasting and slimy (mucilaginous).



Shown through stagnation

Signs of dampness include: “Bad blood”, “damp heat”, thickened builds in the body presenting as thick phlegm, possibly hypothyroidism, dull facial expression, blockage of channels of elimination such as the skin, kidneys, lungs, lymph, colon, low metabolic function such as thyroid, cells, liver

Herbal energetics needed: Alteratives, bitters, laxative, purgative

Herbs to dispel dampness: DandelionBurdock, Oregon Grape Root, Poke root, Black Walnut Hull, Barberry, Blessed Thistle, Yellow Dock root, Senna, Red CloverCleaversChickweedNettles

How to demonstrate damp dispelling herbs: Eat a Dandelion leaf and notice how your saliva increases, which will stimulate sluggish organs.

chamomile 1


Shown through constriction, tension, contraction

Signs of tension include: Tension in the body or mind or both, alternating symptoms such as diarrhea and constipation, chills and fever, gas and bloating coming and going, muscle spasms, restlessness and irritability, vascular tension, cold in joints, cold hands and feet, reverse normal movement such as vomiting, hiccoughs, tremors

Herbal energetics needed: Acrid, relaxing

Herbs to dispel tension: Lobelia, Passionflower, Kava, Calendula, Valerian, CatnipChamomile, Hops, Crampbark, Wild Lettuce, Boneset, Blue Vervain, Vitex

How to demonstrate relaxing herbs: Before bedtime brew up a cup of Chamomile and Catnip tea to sip while relaxing



Shown through relaxation

Signs of laxness include: Watery blood that does not clot easily, tissues lack tone, prolapsed organs, cool, clammy skin, low energy, secret mucus, sweat, diarrhea, tend to have copious, clear urine, sagging tissue

Herbal energetics needed: Astringents

Herbs to dispel laxness: OakRoseSumachRaspberry leaf, Lady’s Mantle, AppleSageWitch Hazel, Tea, Blackberry

How to demonstrate toning herbs: To feel an astringent at work, lick the inside of a green banana peel or crack open an acorn and try to eat the nutmeat


Deepening the knowledge

Tissue states, energetics and these systems can be overwhelming but they are necessary to help with mastering the art of herbal medicine. Don’t be discouraged, the more you study, the more familiar you will become with them. Start by introducing the terms and relating them to known herbs that you have already studied. Try tasting the herbs and determining their energetics. As you learn about each herb’s use and properties, test yourself on their energetics.

For further study of this subject, try these links and books:

Matthew Wood
The Practice of Traditional Western Herbalism
Study Guide to the 6 Tissue States

Steven Horne
The Six Tissue States

Kathy Eich
The 6 Tissue States as a Means for Health Assessment Part 123

Michael Moore
Herbal Energetics

Do you incorporate herbal energetics and tissue states with your herbal learning? Are your kids able to determine the energetics of the plants and understand the tissue states of people? What have you found to be helpful in teaching them the tissue states and energetics?