We’ve been doing more work with tongue diagnosis in class, and I wanted to show you guys one of the most common patterns we see: a red tip signaling ‘heat’ rising to the heart.

This does not mean anything is “wrong” with you! It’s simply an observation of an imbalance within a certain organ system. When you notice signs like this on your tongue, you can use them as a guide to make simple food and lifestyle changes


Tongue Diagnosis is one of the four pillars of examination in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and reveals to the practitioner a basic guide of where disharmony is present.

  • First, you look at the overall “material” of the tongue: is it a healthy pink signaling proper blood flow? Is it pale, suggesting there may be an iron/B12 deficiency? Is it deep red or even purple, signaling trapped heat and stagnation?
  • Then, you want to look at the coating: is there a healthy thin coating – just enough to moisten the tongue? Or is there a thick white or yellow moss?
  • Next, we move onto the nature of the tongue: examining whether it’s swollen (with teeth imprints on the sides), cracked (hinting at a dry tissue state in the body), or shaking (this is something known as “wind”).
  • Lastly, we would tie this all together by focusing on where these different characteristics are seen. Since we know cracks represent a lack of moisture, if they’re in the “stomach/spleen” area we would focus on nourishing and re-hydrating the gut with mucilaginous herbs like marshmallow root. We know redness represents trapped heat, so if it’s in the “heart” area we would focus on relaxation techniques and bitter herbs that clear heat to “cool” us down physically & emotionally.


This can manifest as irritability, restlessness, racing thoughts, insomnia, and anxiety.


  1. Since “heat rises,” we need to look at where the heat is rising from — and that’s usually the liver. We know that emotionally, the liver is the seat of anger, so oftentimes this is a sign of repressed anger and emotions moving up to the heart channel because they’re not being released.
  2. Too much thinking also “burns the brain,” causing heart fire and symptoms of dizziness and tinnitus.
  3. The “heart” in TCM is synonymous with the mind, and patients with heart troubles are shown to have higher than normal rates of cognitive dysfunction. You must have a calm heart to have a calm, clear mind, so our goal is to clear the heat.


The simplest lifestyle changes are key here:

  • Get to sleep before 11pm so that ‘clean up’ can occur during liver time (11pm-3am). When liver energy is flowing smoothly, stagnant heat does not get trapped and cannot rise to the heart.
  • Take walks in the woods, as “wood” is the element of the liver. This clears heat from both the liver and heart and calms the restless mind.
  • TALK ABOUT YOUR EMOTIONS. This is the easiest way to get the heat “off your chest!”
  • REMOVE STIMULANTS (such as coffee) including excess mental stimulation – restrict the amount and type of television you watch (no reality TV brawls) and use your phone less to stop ‘charging’ up your liver with all that blue light.
  • FOODS: The flavor of the heart is ‘bitter,’ so bitter herbs and foods are needed here to pull excess energy down and drain the fire. Herbal allies such as hawthorn berry tea, green tea, or linden tea are easy to locate and brew at home. Mung bean soup or broth is my favorite way to clear heat in a pinch, especially when someone is having an acute episode of anxiety and insomnia. Greens such as celery, spinach, and cucumber are crucial to “cool you down” emotionally, and green apples support not only the heart but the liver too by breaking up stagnation & heat.
  • Limit/avoid fried foods, excess meats, cheese, eggs, peanuts, and alcohol.

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  • dana says:

    Hey Paula! Arbor Vitae in NYC is her Herbalism School 🙂 – Dana @ Team Organic Olivia

  • Elizabeth O'Handley R.Ac. says:

    This is beautiful and simplified. I was trying to explain to a friend his tongue reading and your link popped up first! I love it! 🙏 thank you!!

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