The Bitter Principle
Bitters are varied group of plant constituents linked only by their pronounced bitter taste. Many compounds can be bitter, not any one individual constituent, and it should be noted that bitter is primarily an action. When referring to bitter as a constituent it is referred to as ‘The Bitter Principle’ and is often a volatile oil, alkaloid or sesquiterpene (or some combination).
The bitterness itself stimulates secretions by the salivary glands and digestive organs, and such secretions can dramatically improve appetite and strengthen the overall function of the digestive system. With improved digestion and absorption of nutrients that follow, the body is thereby nourished and strengthened.
Bitter herbs are often hepatics & cholagogues, and must be tasted to produce these effects (although this is controversial within the herbal community). The sensation of bitterness is directed primarily by the vagus nerve to the central nervous system, leading to various physiological effects.
Bitters in Humoral Medical theory are considered to be cooling & drying. Regulating the digestive organs with a quality that congeals fluids, tightens tissues, and pulls energy back to the core. The have an earthy, grounding (or melanocholic temperament) that restrains the mind and can help when feeling scattered and focus is needed. Some herbal examples include:
Major Actions of Bitters:
Biters also have important Secondary Actions, including:
Conditions when bitters are especially useful include:
Safety & Contraindications: