Getting a little bitter before meals
A Flavour for Balance
By Colleen Kennedy
Long before the advent of science labs, mass spectrometry/gas chromatography and isolated compounds, the traditional medicine man or woman relied on the art of taste to decipher the quality and use of a plant. Now, I’m sure there may have been a few human casualties along the way as some of the most potent toxins come from the plant world, but the essence of this art is still used today, and now, combined with the knowledge of the science labs, we’re able to understand and utilise plant properties without the casualties!
All of the worlds herbal traditions, from Ayurveda to TCM, Native American and our own Irish Herbalism use a system of communicating through taste and using that taste essence return our bodies to a state of balance. Through scientific research, we can identify phytochemicals that correlate to these tastes and to justify and rationalise our use of these plants. But we must take our hats off to our ancestors who had this art all figured out long before we all came along!
There are an average of six tastes which are used in a medicinal way; bitter, astringent, sour, salty, pungent and sweet. In this particular article, we’ll be getting bitter! Since that taste is probably most lacking and most beneficial to the typical Irish diet.
Bitters are a flavour and phytochemical component in foods and herbs that exert a very specific action on the digestive system. We have overloaded our taste buds with so many synthetic additives, preservatives and sweeteners that no one likes to taste that bitter flavour anymore, when it’s so crucial to the efficiency of our digestion. On stimulation of the bitter receptors in our tongue, a message is sent to the brain to release a myriad of digestive enzymes from the mouth to the stomach, pancreas and liver.