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The Liver and Gallbladder Meridians according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are described as the Wood Element and this essay uses the analogy between a tree and a person to describe the Wood Element characteristics.

When we think of planting and growing a strong, lush, flexible tree from a little sapling we immediately think of a place in the garden that would be suitable in that it should have an ample supply of sunshine, the soil should be nutrient dense and the roots of the tree should be able to take root in the type of soil it is planted in.  There should be sufficient water and enough space to develop into a fully grown specimen.

A sapling planted with only one of the above conditions missing will have structural problems in its development, in that its roots may not grow strong enough or go deep enough to support it (the roots of a strong tree can break through foundations!) it may never be able to take the cold of a winter and survive into spring, it may not be able to fight off parasitical or bacterial infection, it may not be able to produce viable seeds for further replication and finally, it would have a shortened lifespan.

Roots have the characteristic of holding together the soil of the earth – preventing erosion from wind and water .  In the “human tree”  the tissues representing the wood element are the sinews (including tendons) which are the tissues that hold the bones, muscles and joints together, thus controlling the body’s movements, like the tree controls the soil movement.

Water and nutrition is held within the tree in the form of sap; in the body - the liver is a wood organ which controls the sinews “because the liver stores blood, and healthy sinews need to be nourished by blood to enable them to work properly. If the liver blood is deficient, the blood cannot nourish the sinews, resulting in a numb feeling in the limbs, shaking of the hands and feet, and difficulty in moving the joints.  The nails are considered to be the “end of the sinews”, so if the nails become dry, cracked, or deformed, this will also be attributed to deficiency of the liver blood, since normal nails need nourishment from the blood.”1 

During winter trees store nutrition in their bulbs and roots; likewise when the body is at rest or asleep, the blood flows back to the liver; when the body is active, the need for blood increases so the liver will release its storage of blood.  Liver stores blood, the heart moves it.  The liver regulates the volume of blood in the body according to physical activity and it regulates menstruation.

The eyes reflect the condition of the liver as a leaf may reflect the condition of the tree in that well formed, glossy, good coloured leaves indicate a healthy tree.  The liver has a close relationship with the eye, since the liver stores blood and the liver meridian is connected to the eye, thus if liver blood is abundant, the eye will be well nourished and vision will be good.

A tree’s branches may be used to create a strong fire and likewise the liver and gallbladder play important functions in digestion and metabolism and thus indirectly fuel the body’s energy requirements. Lack of proper wood chi can result in indigestion, tightness in the chest, bloatedness in the abdomen and irritability.  “The effects on the stomach can cause flatulence,  a sick feeling, even vomiting; and the effects on the spleen cause bloatedness and diarrhoea.”1

The fire may also be likened to emotions in that suppressed Liver chi or imbalanced liver chi can cause an irritable, fiery temperament,  mood swings, and depression.

A tree that is missing wood chi may not be able to create viable fruit and thus seeds to propogate itself.  The human body is the same.  “Since the liver meridian passes by the genital area, and also has the function of storing the blood, menstruation also relies on the normal functioning of liver energy. ”If the blood in liver is deficient, the period will be light, even non-existent (amenorrhoea).  If liver blood stagnates the woman can have very painful periods with clots. Or, if there is heat in the blood, this can cause excessive menstrual bleeding. Even male infertility can be treated by restoring liver energy.”1

In conclusion, in “The Human Tree” the Wood Element chi is thus derived similarly to the actual tree from sunshine, nutrition, water, adequate oxygen, plenty of space to grow mentally and literally and I’m not sure if trees think but people certainly need plenty of positive thinking and good emotions! A person lacking Wood Element chi would face the same sort of difficulties as the tree.

The wood element has the property of growing freely and unfolding; thus our flexibility, fertility, mood and sight are strongly influenced by the quality of the Wood Element chi we are providing ourselves with;  like  trees its energy grows and moves within its network and does not like to be suppressed or stopped. 


1. Chinese Herbal Medicine by Dr Guang Xu, Vermillion London, Published 1996
    ISBN 0-0980-944-4

2.  www.lieske.com/5e.html downloaded in April 2003

3.  www.cheemahproject.org/sculptures.html

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