As a child I was given a Yarrow infusion if I had a fever, a very bitter herb which would encourage profuse sweating. And so I grew up accustomed to these unusual flavours and knew the benefits they could bring.
Consuming bitter foods and herbs is a long held tradition in many cultures around the world. Our ancestors were perhaps more intuitive, and would collect locally growing bitter plants in the knowledge that they were necessary.
Today bitter herbs are commonly prescribed by herbalists when a patient complains of nausea, loss of appetite, poor digestion and bloating.
With ever increasing numbers of people suffering from stress, digestion is under attack. Stress can play havoc with digestion and over time it becomes weak. When experiencing distress blood is shunted away from the stomach, to the muscles and brain, so the body can fight or flee, breathing becomes more shallow, digestive juices decline and stomach related health issues can occur.
We consume much fewer bitter foods compared to our ancestors. Bitter foods and herbs stimulate digestive juices and enzymes so we can break down food, and it all begins in the mouth. We can be consuming healthy foods, but if our digestion is weak, stomach acid low and absorption poor you can relate it to water pouring through a sieve.
It all begins on the tongue
My father has long explained the benefits of actually first tasting a herb on the tongue. While capsules and tablets have their place I often favour a tincture for this reason. Interestingly Andrographis is so bitter you can even taste this through a gelatin capsule.
We have bitter receptors on the tongue. When these are stimulated by bitter foods, the brain signals the vagus nerve relaying the bitter sensation to the salivary glands, liver, stomach and pancreas. This encourages the production of digestive enzymes and juices to help us digest and absorb nutrients from our food.
Bitter receptors are also found in the stomach and when they are stimulated by bitter herbs or food, cells with T2Rs secrete hormones into our bloodstream that help us feel satisfied and full.
You can read more on the science here.
SIGNS OF WEAK DIGESTION
- Poor appetite
- Loose stools
- Vertical lines on nails
- White spots on nails
- Low stomach acid
BENEFITS OF ADDING BITTERS TO YOUR DIET –
- Reduce bloating and gas
- May reduce food sensitivities
- Improves protein digestion
- Improves mineral absorption
- May help heartburn
- Can help SIBO and yeast overgrowth
- Aid detoxification
- Improves poor appetite
- Support liver and gallbladder health
- Promote healthy gut microbiome
- Reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes
BITTER FOODS AND HERBS YOU CAN ADD TO YOUR DIET –
- Cruciferous vegetables including cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, radishes, radicchio lettuce
- Citrus peel
- Green tea
- Dandelion greens
- Milk thistle
- Apple cider vinegar