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Understanding the Art of TCM Tongue Diagnosis

Updated: Apr 23

If the eyes are the window to the soul, then the tongue is the window to the body.

In the realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the body is viewed as a complex system where every part and function is interconnected. One of the unique diagnostic methods employed in TCM is tongue diagnosis. While it might seem unconventional to some, the tongue holds a wealth of information about an individual's overall health and wellbeing.

The Basics of Tongue Diagnosis

In TCM, the tongue is considered a mirror reflecting the internal state of the body. Practitioners examine various aspects of the tongue, including its colour, shape, coating, moisture, and movement, to gain insights into the condition of internal organs, energy flow, and potential imbalances.


- A healthy tongue is typically pink in colour, indicating good circulation and balanced energy flow.

- Different colours such as red, pale, purple, or even blue can signify specific organ imbalances or pathological conditions.

- For instance, a red tongue may indicate excess heat in the body (think symptoms such as fever, inflammation, and inflamed skin eruptions), while a pale tongue might suggest Blood or Qi Deficiency (think symptoms such as fatigue, menstrual difficulties, over-thinking).


- The coating refers to the layer that covers the surface of the tongue.

- Thickness, colour, and distribution of the coating are all significant factors.

- A thick coating often means insufficient digestion.

- A coating that is yellow, shiny and thick usually means internal damp heat, often originating in the digestive system.

- A dry yellowy tongue means excess heat which usually relates to inflammation and fever.

- No coating or a dry, peeling tongue points to Yin Deficiency indicating an array of illnesses and kidney or liver involvement.

Shape and Movement:

- The shape of the tongue and its movement can also provide valuable diagnostic clues.

- A swollen tongue shows signs of Spleen Qi Deficiency and Damp Heat, suggesting fluid retention (ie, bloating, oedema) and/or poor digestion.

- A thin tongue means Blood Deficiency, which can present with symptoms such as fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

- A quivering tongue indicates something such as illness or excess stress is draining the body's Qi or energy reserves, leading to Qi Deficiency.

- Curled sides indicates problems with the liver, especially if the sides are red or have swelled up.

- A tongue with cracks can mean Yin Deficiency.

- The movement of the tongue, such as deviation to one side, might indicate an underlying neurological issue or imbalance in the body.

TCM Tongue Map

- The TCM tongue map is a concept that assigns different regions of the tongue to specific organs and body systems. According to this map, different areas of the tongue correspond to various organs, such as the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, and kidneys.

- By observing changes in the colour, coating, and other characteristics of these specific regions, we can glean valuable insights into the functioning of corresponding organs and detect imbalances or health issues.

- This holistic approach to tongue diagnosis allows practitioners to tailor treatment plans based on the observed patterns, aiming to restore balance and promote overall wellbeing.

How Tongue Diagnosis is Used by poppy.byNature

Tongue diagnosis is one of the key components in the Initial Health Analysis included in 1:1 Support. Alongside a personalised iridology reading and in-depth health questionnaire, a TCM tongue reading can help to form a comprehensive understanding of a patient's health status, as well as develop a personalised treatment plan. This might consist of herbal medicine, dietary adjustments, and lifestyle modifications to address the imbalances.

For example, if a patient presents with a red tongue and symptoms of excess heat, treatment may focus on clearing heat and promoting cooling, using specific herbal formulas and naturopathic advice tailored to address the underlying pattern of imbalance.

Monitoring Progress:

- Tongue diagnosis is not only used for initial assessment but also for monitoring the progress of treatment over time.

- As the body's internal balance is restored, changes in the tongue's appearance and coating can be observed, serving as tangible evidence of improvement.

Good To Know

Here are some key points to know when giving yourself or receiving a tongue diagnosis reading.

  1. Some disorders don’t show up on the tongue. It should also be noted that practitioners do not rely on tongue diagnosis alone in evaluating a patient’s health.

  2. In most cases, the tongue is examined for no longer than 15 seconds at a time. Extending the tongue for longer may cause changes in tongue shape and color (two crucial elements of tongue diagnosis).

  3. Before receiving a tongue diagnosis, you should avoid food and drinks that might discolour your tongue (including coffee, turmeric, beetroot, and foods made with artificial food colouring).

  4. If you brush or scrape your tongue as part of your oral hygiene routine, discontinue use for at least a full day prior to your tongue diagnosis to give an accurate reading.


Tongue diagnosis is a fascinating and integral component of Traditional Chinese Medicine, offering valuable insights into the body's internal landscape. While it may seem unusual to those unfamiliar with TCM principles, its efficacy has been demonstrated through centuries of practice and continues to be used by practitioners worldwide. By embracing and understanding TCM tongue diagnosis, we embark on a journey that not only uncovers the intricacies of the body's internal landscape but also honours the timeless wisdom of ancient healing practices, ultimately guiding us towards holistic health and wellbeing.

Click here to explore how to work 1:1 with me and how to receive your own personalised TCM tongue reading
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