Bitter herbs taste bitter. They stimulate the bitter taste buds on the tongue which then trigger reflexes of the nervous system enlivening the entire digestive tract. Starting in the mouth and moving throughout the digestive system these reflexes increase digestive secretions, saliva, enzymes, bile, acids and hormones. Bitters also strengthen, tone and heal the mucosa of the digestive tract. They also ground and help us to stay cool, calm and emotionally connected.
“ Bitter herbs stimulate digestive secretions, acids, juices and enzymes which generally improve appetite and digestion especially of fats/oils/lipids. You must taste bitters to receive their medicinal virtues” Herbalist Jim McDonald
In general modern diets are lacking in bitter foods. At the same time many people struggle with digestive complaints, nutrient malabsorption and chronic gut inflammation leading to food allergies and intolerance. The immune system and the metabolism benefit greatly from a well moving digestion. Bitter spring foods are a tradition to help move the digestion along after a long winter of heavy food.
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Begin incorporating bitter foods into the daily diet. A little goes a long way. Too much can make one ‘bitter in mind and spirit’ Balance and diversity of flavors is key!
~Bitter salad greens like arugula, watercress, radicchio, endive and mustard greens are available in produce departments or in a home garden. Weeds such as dandelion leaves and chicory are likely growing in your yard.
~Incorporate a few leaves into a salad or mix with milder greens such as lettuce, kale or chard as you get used to the flavor. You don’t have to eat a whole plate of dandelion greens! Use bitter greens in a stir fry or in conjunction with other greens in your favorite recipes.
~Make a salad dressing by steeping chopped dandelion greens in apple cider vinegar for 4-6 weeks. Chop leaves, place in a glass jar and cover with vinegar. Cover with a plastic top (metal will rust). Shake daily and then strain out leaves. Mix vinegar with olive oil, lemon juice, fresh herbs and sea salt for a delicious dressing.
~There are many different herbs that are bitter in action and range from mild to fierce. If you have health concerns like low blood pressure, diabetes, severe heartburn or other major health condition, as always, it is wise to consult with a local herbalist to create a custom medicinal bitter blend.
Dandelions are a nutritional powerhouse of minerals and vitamins. The leaves and root are bitter, more or less depending on the time in the growing cycle. The whole plant is edible and the roots can be eaten as a vegetable, made into a tincture or dried and roasted as a delicious root drink.
Dandelion Root Decoction
~Harvest dandelion roots from organic lawns and gardens. Watch for pet waste and other toxic onslaughts because even though dandelions grow everywhere doesn’t mean we should harvest them from anywhere. Ideally harvest roots in the late fall as the plant dies back or in early spring before it flowers.
~Snip off leaves and use in a meal. Put roots into a 5 gallon bucket and cover with water. Swish, scrub and repeat until mostly clean. Chop roots into small pieces, wash again in the sink and then process in a food processor to chop fine.
~Lay in a single layer on cookie sheets. Roast & dry in the oven at 250 degrees for about 2 hours, turning a few times for even roasting. Some people like to keep the oven door ajar to allow moisture to escape. It should fill the house with a nutty aroma. When finished, allow to cool, remove roots and store in glass containers. Label jars with date and store in a cool, dry place.
~To make decoction: Place 1 cup of water in a pan and add 1-2 Tablespoons of roasted dandelion root. Simmer gently for 15 minutes are so. Strain and drink warm with cream.
~Collect either fresh or dried bitter herbs.
~Bitter herb ideas: Burdock, dandelion leaves and roots, chicory root, chamomile, motherwort, bitter orange peel, grapefruit peal, wormwood, yarrow flowers, yellow dock root, angelica (Pick maybe 2-4, think flavor and taste)
~Add some aromatic spices: ginger, cardamom, allspice, coriander, fennel, cinnamon (Pick 2-4, think compatibility)
~Fill glass jar with chosen herbs and spices. Cover with vodka or other spirits. Shake well and let steep for 4 weeks or more. Strain herbs and bottle. Label bottles with ingredients and date.