Metal – Precious and Refined



In one of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, she proposes the idea of requiring all culinary students to make colorful cut-outs of asparagus in the spring, and apples in the fall, just as school children create paper snowflakes in January. The purpose would be to teach the value of eating produce in its season, when it is fresh, full of nutrition, and economical.


It was about the time of my reading this book that I had occasion to speak to a class of culinary students. The topic was seasonal and local dining… minimizing our carbon footprints and all that. At that moment, strawberries were at their peak, bright red, juicy, and available in our area right off the vine. So, in preparation for my little lecture, I collected pieces of red construction paper, cut each one into a strawberry shape, and folded them so that they were just little red folded shapes, unrecognizable as strawberries – you know, for the “wow” factor when the true shape would be revealed.

Each culinary student was given a folded red paper and a hole puncher. Then I asked them to punch holes randomly. The idea was that when the hole punched red piece of paper was opened, and then placed on a white piece of paper – surprise! a strawberry with white seeds!

Little did I know that this would turn into a study in psychology.


Per the time-honored studies in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), dispositions correlate with physical health concerns. Example: a hot-tempered person is likely to have heart-health issues. Western studies make these correlations too; many just find Eastern medicine more reliable, and its practice of using food as medicine most beneficial. That said…

A variety of designs were produced. Some actually were random, like the seeds of a strawberry. Noteworthy: The “earthy” students punched floral shapes which were quite happy and lovely. However, students with a strong metal personality did the most fascinating thing. Given no context of the strawberry, they punched perfect lines, each hole equally spaced. Or they punched holes in the shape of an “L”, which produced what looked to be a bad attempt at designing a strawberry swastika!

The Metal Personality

Had these students known they were making strawberries, I feel certain that they would have taken a completely different approach. Lacking that knowledge, they created order and uniformity. However, the metal personality is aesthetically gifted! They are designers and decorators, and have an amazing ability for making surfaces beautiful. They see value in people and things that others do not easily see. They seek high quality… like that which you find in precious metals.

When healthy, a metal person is able to “take in” (as in breath, aspiration) and “let go” appropriately, meaning that they aspire to reach their highest potential, and see the best in others. And they are able to let go of superficiality and material items that may weigh them down otherwise. This person is refined, disciplined, hard-working, respectful of authority, and thrives in an organized environment. They aspire to high standards, reaching above and beyond when everyone else has stopped reaching.

They hold high moral standards.

General Pathology of the Metal Element

Like all the elements, manifestations of deep-seated dispositions, are both physical and conceptual. If you are close to a “metal” person, you will begin to recognize their physical health declining first by, well, grumpiness and negativity. They may become very judgmental. When unhealthy, a metal person may hold on to too much (even hoarding), they may see value in things which they really should discard. And they may exhibit a “fatal flaw” syndrome -no matter how wonderful something is, they can point out the flaw. They grieve and feel a sense of longing and hopelessness.

This element, is more diverse than any of the others – earth, fire, water, and wood. Metal types are as far apart as are the metal organs – the lungs and large intestine. Examples of metal personalities range from Marilyn Monroe to Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore. They have in common grieving and longing. Generally, they have a weepy voice, or a soft breathy voice; as though they are struggling for their lungs to produce enough air to speak, or they have lost something they believe they can never have again. (Unlike the melodic voice of an earth person, or gravelly voice of a water). An unhealthy metal person strives hopelessly for unattainable perfection, or just gives up.

Read more about the metal element personality here – Five Elements

Common Health Concerns of the Metal Element

They primary organs affected by the metal element are the lungs and large intestine. This person may suffer from asthma, allergies, skin disorders, or constipation, depression, IBD, and even hoarding. They may have bad breath because of poor digestion, or suffer from poor immunity.

Optimizing Health for the Metal Element

No smoking! Avoid working around fumes. Also, avoid overeating, in order to allow the body to process foods. Compact, simple, attractive small meals are often best. Some asthma medications actually contribute to dryness and heat conditions, but of course, do not discontinue any medication without consulting your physician! Modify your diet to counteract these conditions, as needed.

Lung Qi Dificiency

Indicated by Shortness of breath, pale, low energy, weak voice, gets sick easily, low immunity

Cut out dairy and sugar. Follow a Spleen Qi Deficiency Diet from the Earth Element.

Spleen Qi De­ciency:

Beneficial foods: Whole grains – brown rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, wheat berries, amaranth. Warming foods – ginger, cinnamon, cardamon, black pepper, fennel, clove, nutmeg, hot chiles. Lentils. Root vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes. Squash, pumpkin, mushrooms, taro, longan, lotus seeds, hawthorne berries. Tangerine peel – use in a tea. Soups. Beef, pork, chicken, eggs.

Dry Cough (Lung Yin Deficiency)

Again, No smoking! No spicy foods, cut back on warming spices.

Add to the diet foods which alleviate dryness in the lungs: pears, almonds, honey, pear juice, mango, asparagus, black sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds

Steamed Asian Pears w/ brown sugar and Fritillaria Chuan Bei Mu

Damp Phlegm

Cough, chest congestion, sinus congestion, coughing up phlegm or could be stuck in chest (causing mild chest pain), thick coat on the tongue.

NO DAIRY, NO SUGAR. Make teas with tangerine peels. Add hawthorne berry

Follow Diet for Phlegm Accumulation in Earth

No fast foods, processed foods (which are bad for everyone). No dairy, no sugar, no coffee, no raw foods. Beneficial foods: Mustard greens, teas – black, tangerine peel, pumpkin seeds, shitake mushrooms, radishes, seaweed. Build digestive fire with warming foods and spices.

Note: Hormones and antibiotics in dairy products likely worsen this condition.

Constipation and Many Other Intestinal Issues

Increase fiber with foods such as Apples, Pumpkin, Collards (all greens), Sweet Potato, Okra, Cabbage, Asparagus, Apricots, Figs, Prunes, and Papaya

Dry colon

Maybe with dry cough, dry skin, may be because of advanced age or much medication

Walnuts, Pumpkin seeds, Almonds, Black Sesame Seeds, Fig, Prunes, Apricots

Heat Conditions

Cut out spicy foods, alcohol, recreational drug use, and possibly some prescription medications – consult physician first! Add to diet cooling foods, such as cucumber, celery, melon, clams, mussels, turkey, rabbit, mung beans, tofu, kiwi, lettuce, mango, pear, strawberries.

Chrysanthemum Tea, and Green Tea are also beneficial.

Slow digestion

Build digestive fire with warming foods and spices, plus Spleen Qi deficiency foods (above)

Additional Notes for the Metal Person

  • Have some fun! Avoid becoming a workaholic
  • Use slow rhythmic breathing to relax, regulate breathing, and center yourself
  • Take the time to make your meals attractive, composed
  • Drink lots of water! (keep things moving)
  • You may have suffered loss and this affects you greatly; remember that everyone suffers loss and do not allow this to define or control you.
  • You can accomplish anything! … but strive for balance, not perfection.

More information:


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Please note: This information is provided as a general introduction to the principles of TCM. Please consult your physician of choice concerning all matters pertaining to your personal health.

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