Everyone needs some bitterness in their life. I’m not talking about grudge-holding type of bitter and twisted, but that sharp almost sour taste. But the opposite of sweet.
Once detected on the tongue, bitters trigger a system-wide reaction, stimulating the secretion of fluids that improve digestion and, ultimately, absorption of nutrients and minerals. By improving both the quantity and quality of digestive fluids - namely saliva, stomach acids, enzymes, various hormones and bile - bitters improves the quality of your digestive health and eases a heavy sluggish system, a condition so common in those that eat ‘modern’ diets.
All traditional cultures have some form, if not an abundance, of bitter foods in their cuisines. This is not to say you need to force-feed yourself a bowl of raw dandelion roots, however adding some bitter leaves and herbs to the beginning of a meal can go a long way to improving digestive disorders, hormone imbalances, migraine headaches, liver and gall bladder dysfunction, hypoglycaemia and diabetes to name a few.
“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise”
Bitters can help improve all order of digestive upsets ranging from reflux, that nauseous feeling after eating fatty foods, bloating, constipation, pain and even cravings for sweets and refined carbohydrates such as bread, white rice, candy, chocolate, cakes and pizza.
Many people are surprised to learn that the vast majority of mood-related hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are produced not in the brain, but in the gut. When mood is low, bitter herbs and foods can help perk up your mood by stimulating the action of serotonin, calming irritation and reducing anxiety and depression. Talk about food as medicine!
So in practical terms.... gradually add bitters into your diet, tasting and experimenting to find the one’s you like best and regularly blending them into salads and smoothies.
Bitter greens are dark coloured. Those leafy greens that make salads look and taste interesting
arugula, bok choy, beet greens, broccoli, chard, chicory, Chinese kale, cress, dandelion greens, endive, curly endive, frisée, kale mustard greens nettles, radicchio, spinach, watercress
In order to get the digestive benefits, the bitters need to be tasted on the tongue. A raw salad, not the chopped iceberg and butter lettuce dripping in fatty, mustard and honey dressings, but a selection of wild leafy herbs found these days in most groceries often in a “spring mix”. Better still, these grow like weeds if you have half a mind to plant some seeds. These nutrient-rich leaves and wild herbs are complemented by vinegar-based dressings, which also serve to extract their abundant minerals. Lightly dress with raw apple cider vinegar with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and a pinch of sea salt to help balance and enhance bitters’ bite.
Make a meal of it by adding some goats cheese, roasted sweet potato, sun-dried tomato, avocado and a sprinkle of ground raw nuts and seeds to a large raw salad of bitter leaves
Garnish all sorts of dishes from wraps to quinoa and rice dishes with a blend of dandelion leaves and an abundance of fresh herbs
Spruce up stir-fries by throwing in generous portion of Asian leafy greens just before serving
Make pestos even more nutritious by blending mustard greens and coriander in with the basil
For smoothies, start with small handful of spinach and kale mix, slowly increasing the ratio over time.
Dandelion root, ginger, nettle, green, white and black teas also carry a bitter taste and are a perfect way to dampen sugar cravings. Be sure to forego any sweetener and milk!