When looking at the word “bitter” there are many uses in the English language – to be bitter about something, to have a bitter taste, or to refer to the weather – It was bitter on top of the mountain. Humans are not exempt from this word “bitter” as it can also be used to describe an attitude or emotion of a particular type of person or a person’s feelings on a situation – “he is very bitter about…. “. As a naturopath and herbalist, I am especially interested in the bitter taste of certain vegetables, herbs and fruits. The bitter flavour being generated when bitter taste buds in the mouth are stimulated by a particularly bitter food.
The Western diet tends to ignore bitter foods and focus on creating a sweet taste in preference to other flavours of sour, salty, pungent, umami and bitter. Over time, as the sweetness of foods, whether natural or processed, has increased, most of us find the bitter taste difficult to stomach. What irony? It is the bitter flavour that stimulates the digestive system through the production of stomach acid, thus preparing the stomach to accept food and be ready to digest it.
Herbalists relish bitter herbs for treating gut issues. Better known as chologogues they promote the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder, thus enhancing digestion, liver function and bile flow.
It is no coincidence that aperitifs such as Campari, Vermouth and dry Sherry, very often have bitter principles, designed to promote appetite. The French and the Italians often eat a green salad to start the meal, this has the same effect, in preparing the appetite and the stomach to accept and digest food through the secretion of digestive enzymes. The more bitter the leaves in a salad - roquette, endive, watercress, artichoke, and dandelion leaves, the more effective the stimulation of digestive enzymes, thus the more effective the overall process of digestion becomes.
Herbalist and naturopaths prescribe bitter herbs, such as Dandelion, Gentian, Artichoke and Yellow Dock for issues such as poor appetite, poor digestion, epigastric bloating, gastritis acid reflux, blood sugar regulation, allergies and various inflammatory conditions, as well as during convalescence.
“There are no incurable diseases – only a lack of will. There are no worthless herbs – only a lack of knowledge”. Avicenna, Persian Philosopher and Scientist.