That Bitter Taste!

Why do herbalists love bitter herbs and foods?

Because they do incredible things in the body. What has always amazed me is that the tongue responds to a bitter taste by sending a message via nerve receptors in the tongue all the way down into the gut wall, stimulating the release of digestive juices and a hormone called gastrin. The value of bitters is completely dependant on you actually being able to taste the bitterness.

Many of us don’t give much thought to the range of tastes we have in our diet, and we tend to fixate solely on sweet, fat and salty. This causes imbalances in the body! Sweet food in particular can put the digestive and immune systems to sleep if they are over-used…or if you have a yeast sensitivity, sweet foods can wreak havoc, resulting in allergies and auto-immune disorders.

Bitters are also cooling, being perfect for ‘hot’ constitutions.


*stimulate appetite

*increase flow of digestive juices / absorption of nutrients

*reduce the risk of gut infections

*reduce food allergies

*improve bowel flora

*increase bile flow and dilution

*reduce gallbladder and liver disease

*balance pancreatic endocrine function (i.e. useful for blood sugar issues)

*repair the gut wall lining

I particularly want to point out the role bitters play in improving bowel flora and the health of the gut lining. I am so happy that the world around me is discovering fermented foods, but I hope they also realise that a diversity of plant foods and tastes can accomplish the same job. Meat, on the other hand, putrefies in the gut, feeding bad bacteria, but not good.

Bitters also have a balancing effect on other parts the endocrine system (not just the pancreas). I can’t remember how this works right at this very moment, but I suspect it is via the beneficial effect on the gut and liver. A healthy liver can somehow monitor what we need chemically and if there is a hormonal excess, it clears out old used up versions of these hormones and sends them to the gut, which, if it is working properly, can flush them out. If, on the other hand we need more of that particular hormone, the liver can do a very fine job of giving tattered hormones a makeover and getting in back into blood circulation. In other words, it sorts, recycles and cleanses. Isn’t the body simply amazing?

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