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The Elements of Herbalism

The Elements of Herbalism

The 5 great elements recognized in Ayurveda and Herbalism include fire, earth, water, air, and ether. These elements form the foundation for life, starting from the physical level to the subtle level. It's important to understand that EVERYTHING in creation is made up of these elemental forces. From a gentle water stream that paves its way through dirt floors of a lush forest. To the fire nature of the sun lighting up the sky and burning through rain clouds. Though some don't realize that these forces also play a role in our emotions, bodily functions, and in the energetic fields of our very galaxy. 


Fire relates to intuition, our sense of passion, and sparks our creativity. It is ambitious, expressive, and courageous. In terms of our being, the fire element corresponds to our small intestine, gall bladder, heart, immune system, eyes, and feet. Energetically, the fire element is hot and dry, radiating and intense. It maintains masculine energy which is active, penetrating, quick, and dynamic. 

In astrology, this element is represented by the signs Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius and generally maintain the characteristics of being self-sufficient, enjoying spontaneity, all while possessing a certain zest for life. Often an inspiration to others, fire signs are fearlessly able to lead through passion and solid morals. On the flip side, their leadership style can come off as bossy and they can fall prey to being selfish and having overdeveloped egos. 

In plants, the fire element is reflected in the flowers, which are considered the fullest outward expression of the plants essence. 

The Elements, Fire abstract


Earth relates most to the physical world, the structures of our minds and lives, and of our homes and bodies. Creating stability and dependency through structural parts, the earth element governs the bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and connective tissues in our bodies. Energetically, the earth element is cold and moist, stable and solid, with an air of femininity denoting its receptive, slow, and darker qualities. With this feminine energy comes sensuality, and the enjoyment of the physical senses. Those with a strong aspect of earth in their constitution enjoy the physicality of life including tasting delicious foods, feasting their eyes on tangible aesthetics, taking in the delectable aromas offered by flowers and plants, cozying up in fine linens and silks, the list goes on.

In astrology, the earth signs include Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. While embodied in different ways, each sign confers a sense of duty, responsibility, and reliability. They also tend toward caution and conservatism, in both desire and approach, expressing boundaries and creating structures. 

In plants, the earth element is reflected in the roots and bark, and in the structures that are large and broad.

The elements, earth rocks and sand


Associated with the emotional realm, the water element corresponds to feeling as well as movement. Water teaches us how to surrender and let go, while also being nurturing and yielding. Water exists in the fluids of the body in blood, lymph, saliva, etc. It gives us an overall sense of cohesiveness and provides a medium for nutrients, wastes, and hormones to travel throughout the body and perform their functions. The water element also governs the reproductive organs of the body. Energetically, this element presents as cold and wet, flowing and sensitive. Like the earth element, water has a feminine energy that is receptive, sensitive, deep, and magnetic. 

Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces are the astrological signs ruled by water. Naturally intuitive and sensitive, these water signs tend to feel more intensely than the rest. They are emotional, nurturing, and known to be deep. They tend toward compassion and understanding, as there is a natural ability toward the empathetic and psychic ways of knowing. The flip side of the dreamy water signs is their tendency to brood, become self-indulgent, and even controlling when out of balance. Calm like the sea or terribly forceful like that of torrential rain, the emotions brought on by this element are plentiful indeed. 

In plants, the water element is reflected in the stem, the juice, and in the sap. Plants are smooth and/or wet, have hollow stems for which nutrients and sap may flow, to then store moisture in their leaves. Similar to the ways we store emotions in our bodies.

The elements, water


With the air element we move into the realm of intelligence, thinking, language, communication, and relationship. Air is expansive, light, changeable. In our bodies, Air corresponds to our lungs, nervous system, brain, and movement in the body. Energetically, the air element is cold and dry, spacious and light. It encompasses a masculine energy emitting dynamic, expressive, and outgoing qualities. 

Astrological air signs include Gemini, Libra, and Aquarius. These signs are intelligent thinkers and handle abstract reasoning well. They love to analyze, synthesize and probe, all the while being curious, perceptive, and alert. From their communicative nature, out of balance air signs can dabble in gossip, become overly talkative, and come off a little extravagant. When the air element is in overflow, flighty-ness and inconsistency can also come up in their characteristics.

In plants, the air sign resides in the leaves, which are the main areas of gas exchange, or breathing. Plant parts that are light, feather like, and soft correspond to the air element, while also governing the aromatic properties of plants.

The elements of herbalism, plastic wrap moved by wind into shape of a wave


The final element, Ether, is much harder to describe. It represents a semi-material, spiritual energy which operates on and through the four aforementioned elements. It brings about change and creates a container for change and creation to occur. Think of this element not as a tangible aspect, but instead a container for all things to exist. Much like the planet's atmosphere. 

This element has no astrology sign associated with it, as it has a spiritual nature that resides in all signs. 

In plants, ether's quintessence is reflected in the seed. It contains all elements and patterns of the plant contained within: the roots (earth), the stems (water), the leaves (air), and the flower (fire). The seed represents wholeness and connection within and without. The seed is potential. Therefore, ether is potential energy that only exists in the physical world with the involvementof the other elements. 

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