Christopher Hedley: Which Humour Are You?

Copyright © 2003–2019 Christopher Hedley.


The best way to learn about humours is to try applying humoral theory in practice. This project is a first attempt to devise an approachable and practical solution to the problem of how to teach humoral medicine in a modern setting. Your feedback is important to the success of the project.

The Four Temperaments

In the body the four elements; EARTH, AIR, FIRE and WATER are known as the four Humours and give rise to the four Temperaments; Melancholic, Sanguine, Choleric and Phlegmatic respectively.

We are, everyone of us, composed of all four elements. We must have them all or we couldn't function or even 'be'. The interplay and relative dominance of each of the four humours within our bodies gives rise to our individual temperaments and bodily shapes. The system describes us as a whole - mental, physical and emotional characteristics.

(Only about 10% of people have one clearly dominant humour, most of us are complex mixtures. The purpose of this exercise is to help you gain a clear picture of your overall balance. Our humoral balance changes throughout our life so the exercise is worth repeating every decade or so).

What to do

1. Put a tick by every statement in the sheet called "What humour are you" that describes you. Don't worry if your ticks seem contradictory, people are contradictory!

2. Enter on the Record Sheet the number of ticks you gave to each humour.

3. In one sentence sum up your assessment of your humour:

For example; Fire 3, Air 2, Water 10, Earth 16 - this person is dominated by Water and Earth ie. they tend to be a bit muddy.

Notes for guidance: I have included a few signs of excess. Tick these only if you tend to have them regularly or persistently. You may need to take the pulses / see the urine of other people to help you assess yours. 'Dreams' concerns recurrent themes. The illustrations given are from 'Winnie the Pooh'.

4. Read through the following lists and decide on a regime for yourself, based on your assessment of your native humoral balance. Write down that regime and follow it, as best you can, for one month. (Most people will need a regime that is a mixture from the various lists).

5. Fill in the first page of the RECORD SHEET.

Which humour are you?

Fire (choleric) Air (sanguine) Water (phlegmatic) Earth (melancholic)
Definition FIRE is the easiest humour to see as it is the most 'active'. Fire is Hot and Dry & most active in adolescence and in summer. The CHOLERIC humour. AIR is seen most easily as mobility. Air is Warm and Moist, light and mobile, most active in infancy and spring. The SANGUINE humour. WATER is somewhat more hidden than the above two. Water is Cold and Moist, flowing and binding, most noticable in old people and winter. The PHLEGMATIC humour. EARTH is most easily seen in the way it 'is'. Earth is Cold and Dry, solid and retaining, most noticable in middle age (especially if they have teenage children) and autumn. The MELANCHOLIC humour.
Build ___ Short and muscular.
___ Easily puts on muscle.
___ Slender and supple.
___ Of middling height or tall and well proportioned.
___ Short or middling.
___ Inclined to fat - pear shaped.
___ Solid bones and with little fat.
___ Medium height.
The wrist, from the hand halfway up the elbow
__ Medium wrists with clearly defined arm muscles ___ Thin wrists (light build) ___ Medium wrists with soft flesh and the muscles not clearly defined ___ Thick wrists (heavy, not swollen) (heavy bones)
Stance ___ Steady and firm. ___ Stands lightly.
___ Springy step, restless.
___ Tends to sag.
___ Gait soft & slow or dragging.
___ Firm but dragging.
___ Tends to hold head down.
Features ___ Well defined (eg a 'Roman' nose - Fire gives definition). ___ Mobile.
___ Nose straight.
___ Soft, indefinite & rounded.
___ Nose rounded.
___ Gaunt.
Skin ___ Dry or combination skin.
___ Rough and warm.
___ Prone to acne & hot rashes, especially during adolescence.
___ Soft, smooth & warm.
___ Large veins.
___ Light or reddish complexion.
___ Blushes easily, red face.
___ Freckles.
___ Cool & soft.
___ Smooth & pale.
___ Cold & dry.
___ Rough, hard and thick.
___ Dark or ashen, often lumpy.
___ Often itchy.
Eyes ___ Dark and sparkling.
___ Steady gaze.
___ Blue or grey blue.
___ Looks around a lot.
___ Pale and watery.
___ Looks away.
___ Dark.
___ Dull gaze.
___ Avoids eye contact.
Hair ___ Curly, dark or red.
___ Plenty of body hair.
___ Thick hair, brown or red (in white people). ___ Light colour, flaxen (in white people) & straight.
___ Lack of body hair.
___ Colour dark.
___ Lack of body hair.
Pulse ___ Strong and full. ___ Great and full.
___ Circulation can be erratic.
___ Hidden & deep.
___ Circulation poor, feels the cold.
___ Slow and steady.
___ Hard or irregular.
___ Tends to overheat in hot weather.
Appetite ___ Good - regards food as fuel.
___ Digestion strong can eat most things but may be prone to acidity or liverishness.
___ Stools generally soft.
___ Good.
___ Digestion good and quick.
___ Likes rich food and eating in company.
___ Cold, weak digestion.
___ Tends to bloating.
___ Prone to mucus.
___ Good but often better than their ability to digest.
___ Prone to liver congestion.
Urine ___ Yellow or dark yellow. ___ Thick and yellow. ___ Pale and thick. ___ Dense, can be pale or dark.
Mental set ___ Proud & ambitious.
___ Strong willed.
___ Blunt but can be charming and a flatterer.
___ Aggressive & quarrelsome or touchy.
___ Bold
___ Quick witted, grasps ideas quickly.
___ Strong emotions quickly expressed.
___ Can hold conflicting emotions at the same time.
___ Appreciates discipline.
___ Likes high adrenaline & competitive sports.
___ Likes few possessions, but must be of quality.
___ Sociable, good company.
___ Joyful & merry.
___ Generous, courteous & merciful.
___ Not easily offended.
___ Likes the company of the opposite sex.
___ Likes good wine and song.
___ Childlike, easily bored, easily changes opinions.
___ Selfish, fickle & restless.
___ Easily moved.
___ Likes new things, can be silly & foolish, self indulgent.
___ Tends to excessive thinking, anxiety & hypochondria.
___ Introverted & calm.
___ Sluggish or lazy.
___ Likes to sleep.
___ Dislikes exercise.
___ Passive.
___ Covertous, stingy & conservative.
___ Careful & dependable.
___ Feels emotions deeply but hides them.
___ Fearful.
___ Kind & friendly.
___ Practical.
___ Stubborn but good at disguising this.
___ Works well under pressure.
___ Introverted.
___ Sad or pessimistic.
___ Stubborn, obstinate.
___ Suspicious, retains anger, splenic.
___ Makes and keeps to judgements about others.
___ Easily offended.
___ Analytical, intellectual & studious.
___ Evaluates before action.
___ Thinks deeply about things.
___ Retentive memory.
___ Careful can be fearful.
___ Tight fisted.
___ Air of being worn out.
___ Suffers in silence. Poets and theorists are often melancholic.
Social ___ Extrovert.
___ Likes to be in charge.
___ Good initiator but won't follow through if goals take too long to achieve.
___ Acts quickly, good in emergencies.
___ Difficult to please.
___ Prefers stimulant to narcotic drugs.
___ Extrovert, very sociable.
___ A better lieutenant than leader.
___ Always says 'yes' to new things.
___ Likes things to run smoothly - good at facilitating groups and diffusing anger.
___ Good listeners.
___ Annoyed by active types - pours cold water on them.
___ Anti-social, likes their own company.
___ Self sacrificing.
___ Excellent at evaluation (but slow).
Clothes ___ Important to wear smart or well fitting clothes. ___ Likes to dress well (or fashionably) but comfortably. ___ Soft materials.
___ Loose and flowing.
___ Not bothered about appearances.
Dreams ___ Of fire, violence or quarrels. ___ Merry conceits, flying. ___ Of water. ___ Of sad and dark things, of stars falling to earth, of monstrous creatures (Avicena).
Sex ___ High sex drive but goes for quick satisfaction.
___ Important to have good looking partners.
___ Likes flirting & foreplay.
___ Good fertility.
___ Low sex drive. ___ Prefers to think about sex rather than take part in it.
Signs of excess ___ Acidity & Heartburn.
___ Biliousness with regurgitation, sour taste in mouth & abdominal discomfort.
___ Insomnia (with restlessness rather than with anxiety).
___ Any fevers tend to be high and short.
___ Heavy menstrual bleeding.
___ Head full of confused & unquiet thoughts.
___ Body feels heavy, wants to stretch and yawn a lot.
___ Mouth ulcers and boils.
___ Easily fatigued but easily distracted from fatigue.
___ Lethargy.
___ Indigestion with bloating.
___ Excess mucus, coughs, sinus congestion.
___ Pelvic congestion with painful periods.
___ Weariness.
___ Liver congestion with feelings of fulness or burning around the solar plexus.
Illustration Tigger, "For of all the things which he had said Tiggers could do, the only one he felt really certain about suddenly was climbing trees". Winnie the Pooh, "'Piglet', said Pooh solemnly, 'what shall we do?' And he began to eat Tigger's sandwiches". Piglet, "are they stuck? Asked Piglet anxiously" (of Tigger and Roo up the tree). Eeyore, "I'm not complaining, but There It Is".
Total ___ ___ ___ ___

Maintaining humoral balance

People with one dominant humour tend to lead a life which builds on that humour. Firey people tend to do firey things, watery people watery things and so on. We play to our strongest hand but each humour has its own, necessary function and its own place. Illness arises when one humour (usually the dominant one) accumulates to excess, overflows its place and upsets the balance of the other three.

People with a relative excess of ONE humour should avoid those things which feed that humour.

People with TWO, evenly dominant humours need to make sure that both are fed. One course is to cultivate different areas of life for different humours. For example, I often see Fire and Water disharmony in practice. Such people might cultivate fire in their work and water in their social life.

People with THREE dominant humours are best considered as having a relative deficiency of the fourth humour. They should do those things that cultivate that humour.

(Ideally we build a good relationship with all our humours so that we may access each of them according to need).

Regime for choleric people (fire)

AVOID; Fatty and spicy foods, fatty meat, salty and dry foods, stimulants, alcoholic spirits, excess wine and an excess of competitive sports - but forced inactivity will cause fire to burn out and lead to the 'Burnt Choler' type of depression. This can happen in retirement and I often see it in students who force themselves to sit still reading books - thus neglecting their preferred sporting activity.

TAKE; Fish and wild meats, beer and cider, soups with barley, summer fruits such as raspberries, sufficient water, regular exercise and vapour baths. Regular cleansing regimes such as short fasts or eating only light food for a few days. Cultivate respect for an authoritative figure and exercise self discipline. Choleric people appreciate discipline and make good soldiers. Always have a project on the go preferably one with clear aims that doesn't take too long.

USEFUL HERBS; Cooling and softening herbs such as Violets, Mallows and Plantains. Herbs that clear heat from the liver and digestive system such as Meadowsweet and Rhubarb root. Herbs that clear heat from the skin such as Burdock root and Yellow dock. Herbs that protect the heart from excess heat such as Motherwort and Lemon Balm. Choleric people often react badly to Valerian and cooling sedatives such as Wild Lettuce and Hops are usually more appropriate.

Regime for sanguine people (air)

AVOID; Excess of all kinds, especially rich food, alcohol and sex. Being too scattered - too many different things on the go. Damp and heating foods such as honey, wine and mead. Excess of concentrated foods such as dried fruit and sugar and garlic and onions in excess. Sanguine people have good digestion and don't need to worry too much about what they eat - only about eating too much.

TAKE; Beer and cider. Water and soups with barley. Vinegar and pickles. Wild meats, fish, salad and summer fruits. Regular exercise in company and co-operative sporting activity. Cultivate esteem and love for one person or find an enduring, central interest to life. Allow positive expression of excess air by singing, writing or expressing ideas. Eat regular meals and avoid eating between meals.

USEFUL HERBS; Calming and centring herbs such as Chamomile, Linden and Oats. Chamomile is almost obligatory for sanguine types. Valerian combined with Skullcap or Passion flower leaves for anxiety. Herbs to protect and balance the circulation such as Hawthorn berries and Bilberries.

Regime for phlegmatic people (water)

AVOID; Excess sleep and slothfulness, eating too much, fish (except with warming herbs), milk products, ice cream, sweet foods, salty foods, raw foods, salads (except with spicy or garlic dressings), pears and summer fruits. The traditional English diet included lots of warming spiced meat and astringent pickles. The traditional cooking of any country will be found to balance the excesses of that country's climate. Modern, fast food will, of course, be the death of us all.

TAKE; Warming foods such as onions and garlic and cooked foods. Astringent (dry) foods such as globe artichokes and cabbages. Warming wine and root vegetables. Fast at the change of seasons and get into the habit of adding gentle spices to foods. Regular, gentle exercise and co-operative ventures with your peers. Avoid getting caught up in emotional introspection - find creative ways of expressing deep emotions.

USEFUL HERBS; Gentle spices especially; Cinnamon, Cardamons, Coriander, Fennel and dried Ginger. Gentle astringents such as Agrimony and Elderflowers. Warm, dry herbs such as Thyme, Sage and Rosemary. Nettles are especially beneficial. Take Nettles and Clivers in the spring and warming herbs in the autumn.

Regime for melancholic people (earth)

AVOID; Excess food. Heavy foods such as beef. Drying foods such as lentils and an excess of astringent foods such as apples and quinces. Eating late in the day. Narcotics. Thinking too much and getting caught in introspection. Lack of physical activity.

TAKE; Light but nourishing foods such as light breads, soft cheeses, shellfish, eggs, lamb, olive oil, root vegetables and dried fruits. Cleansing foods such as asparagus, fennel and celery. Prolonged, gentle exercise such as long walks, hikes and gardening. 'Earthy' activity which has an end product such as pottery. Regular long baths with relaxing oils such as Lavender. Cultivate the friendship of a sanguine person and always have a big, long term project on the go - one which requires deep thought but also gets 'you out of yourself'.

USEFUL HERBS; Gently warm, moving and cleansing herbs such as Fennel, Angelica, Coriander leaves, Parsley and Juniper berries. Herbs for liver congestion such as Barberry bark and Dandelion root and leaf. Herbs to clear melancholy from the heart such as Borage and Motherwort. Comfrey cream for dry skin. Valerian combined with Linden for anxiety.

The first page of the record sheet is overleaf.

A pdf, suitable for printing, is now found here: Christopher Hedley, Humoral research project PDF. - added 16 Jul 2012.