When we speak of the four properties and the five tastes, we can differentiate degrees of intensity. herbs may be cold, slightly cold and very cold; bitter, slightly bitter and very bitter; etc. Some herbs, such as schisandra fruit(wu wei zi), possess several tastes. In any event, every herb is cataloged as having a taste and a property. These two characteristics are used to describe the complicated actions of the herb. Therefor, ephedra (ma huang) is pungent-spicy and warm and disperese wind and cold; lily bulb( bai he) is sweet and cold and promotes the production of body fluids; and astragalus root(huang qi) is sweet and warm and replenishes qi.
Herbs that descend and sink move downward and inward, conduct qi downward, promote urination and defencation, subdue yang and clam the mind. Examples include perilla seed (su zi), red ochre ( dai zhe shi), rhubarb( da huang) and cinnabar(zhu sha).
In gerneral, the functional tendency of a herb is related to its taste, property, quality and processsing. Herbs featured as ascending and floating must be pungent-spicy or sweet in taste as well as warm or hot in properiy, while herbs characterized as descending and sinking must be bitter, sour or salty in taste as well as cool or cold in property. The well-known doctor Li shizhen once described the relationships this way:” Sour or salty herbs have no function of ascending, pungent-cpicy or sweet herbs have no function of descending, cold herbs have no function of floating and hot herbs no function of sinking.