18 Bitter Healing Plants
The following plants and herbs contain bitter substances that are an important part of their overall healing composition.
During the fall season, dandelions are rich with inulin, a sweet tasting starch used for weight loss and to relieve constipation. During spring, dandelions generally taste much more bitter than during the autumn months. Dandelion is used in Hildegard’s Spring Cure to detoxify and stimulate the liver and gall bladder.
Dried bark of the Ceylon Cinnamon Tree has been used medicinally since ancient times. Cinnamon is rich in naturally occurring healthy bitter substances. In addition, cinnamon may also help activate the metabolic process and stimulate fat burning.
The Milk Thistle ranks among the most prominent medicinal plants recognized in Germany for its protective effects on the liver. Milk Thistle was one of Hildegard’s favorite herbs. It contains silymarin, which is the primary active component used to treat liver conditions, but also contains a number of tannins and bitter substances that have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Centaury contains bitter substances that can stimulate the digestive process and appetite. It is also used to relieve flatulence and indigestion.
The bitter substances contained in Buckbean stimulate the production and secretion of saliva, bile, and gastric juices. This herb is generally used to support the digestive process.
In German blessed thistle is known as Benedict herb because St. Benedict recommended this herb as a panacea against all ailments. Cnicus commonly appeared in most medieval monastic gardens as a staple healing plant. The bitter substances contained in cnicus help stimulate appetite and digestion. It is also used effectively to treat flatulence.
Cinquefoil acts as an astringent, generally tightening the skin and tissue. It’s best used as a tincture and often recommended for minor gastrointestinal conditions and diarrhea. Cinquefoil is also used topically in the mouth as a gargling solution and to heal inflammation in the mouth.
In addition to a rich flavor profile from bitter substances, angelica root possesses a fine aromatic essential oil. Angelica root is often included in Hildegard bitter elixirs, providing an invigorating and spicy bitter flavor. Angelica root is also used for calming, to strengthen the nerves, and to help clear the airways for breathing.
Gentian ranks among the most bitter of indigenous European plants with a number of bitter substances contributing to a powerful herbal bitter flavor. In Europe, gentian is an alpine plant with a long history of medicinal uses for digestive problems, fever, hypertension, liver ailments, skin problems, rheumatism, and gout. It is also used as a flavoring bitter in aperitifs, liquors, and tonics. Both its leaves and roots are used. The measurement of IBUs (International Bitterness Units) is extremely high, reflecting the powerful bitterness of the plant.
The neem tree possesses a whole host of valuable and healthy components in addition to a healthy dose of bitter substances. The leaves, flower, fruit, and bark all possess some healing properties. Derivatives of neem tree are known to be antibacterial, fungicide, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, disinfectant, diuretic, and fever-reducing. As with many bitter herbs, neem helps strengthen the immune system and the liver. The components of the plant are also used for the production of insecticides and pesticides.
An old adage goes “wormwood makes everything good” and, recent scientific research seem to confirm this old belief. Wormwood activates acetylcholine receptors in the brain to help limit the decline of memory function in Alzheimer’s patients. 2500 years ago, the godfather of medicine, Hippocrates (the famous Greek doctor) prescribed wormwood to his patients suffering from memory problems.
The dried and roasted roots are often used along with other roasted beans to serve as an alternative to coffee. Teas derived from the chicory herb (approx. 15 grams per liter of water) help with kidney and gallstone issues. Traditionally, chicory was used to treat mild forms of jaundice, mild fevers, and to promote a mild laxative effect.
Sorrel should always be used fresh. The aroma and flavor almost completely disappear when dried. Sorrel was well known and appreciated in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome, where it was consumed for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It was also used to reduce fever. Pregnant women or people with known kidney ailments should not use sorrel.
The yarrow herb contains bitter substances, essential oils, flavonoids, and essential minerals such as potassium. In addition to relieving a variety of digestion issues, in monastic medicine it is often associated with limiting blood flow and healing wounds.
Peppermint contains a number of different bitter agents with anti-inflammatory, germ-killing, bile-drifting, cramp-relieving, and pain-relieving properties. The herb is mainly consumed as mint tea and is also known to assist with digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, gall ailments, stomach aches, and nausea. Peppermint is also used for insomnia, headaches, and the common cold.
Chamomile blossoms contain essential oils composed, in part, of Azulene, a blue hydrocarbon. Azulene is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Chamomile also contains resins, wax, fatty acids, bitter agents, chlorophyll, and phosphoric acid salts. This unique combination of ingredients has the potential to trigger surprising healing effects, particularly when consumed via tea.
The roots of Valerian contains bitter substances, which together with the essential oils can reduce stress, nervousness, and anxiety.
Mugwort is a bitter spice that improves our ability to digest fatty foods. Mugwort also serves to ward off bad breath, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and nasal congestion, along with gall and liver ailments. Used as a tincture, Mugwort works can also improve mood and sleep. Mugwort may also be used as a tea or as a spice. It is naturally antibacterial with soothing and sleep-promoting effects. It may also helps with minor bladder and kidney conditions.
Bitters are best consumed in the form of tinctures or teas because the active ingredients are more readily absorbed through oral mucosa. Whether your condition is infectious, stress-related, or simply caused by exhaustion, bitter substances can help stimulate healing and vitality.
The cause behind many of our persistent ailments is often the result of weakened or compromised liver function. Bitter substances work to stimulate the liver’s metabolic function to restore your body’s powerful detoxifying organ. More information on what foods are bitter you will find here.