Posted to Subscribers on 8 September 2010

Dear Subscribers,

On the eve of the release of Stephen Hawking's new book in which he allegedly dismisses the need for a Creator to have created the Universe, I want to write something light (and dare we say less ludicrous) — a break from the artemisias but still on topic.

The bitterness in food and herbs comes from alkaloids which are essential for health. If you think of pH, you have acids and bases (alkaline substances) but I don't want to go a Macrobiotic route or become ensnared in Carey Reams tests or protocols. I just want to keep this simple and coherent.

Eastern schools of medicine classify foods and herbs by taste. We actually used to do this in the West but, over the centuries, herbalists forgot what the notes meant. I feel my work has gradually helped to restore a bit this ancient knowledge but there is lots more to complete.

The Chinese have a system of five tastes whereas the Ayurvedic, Tibetan, and Siddha medicine systems have six tastes because the sour is differentiated by whether it is more sour or astringent. Personally, I like this division because the sour taste comes from acids whereas astringency is due to tannins.

The tastes are determined by the ratios of the elements and the bitter taste is made mostly of ether and air. Of course, this also means that it is light, dry, and cooling and deranging to vata types when consumed in excess. It is far more therapeutic for kapha and pitta types. The bitter taste is critical for proper liver function. It stimulates the flow of bile which in turn aids in the metabolism of lipids . . . and, interestingly, is thought by certain Chinese writers to be what actually kills parasites. I.e., the herbs do not need to be toxic to kill intestinal parasites but they do need to promote enough bile flow to allow the bile to accomplish this task. This, in turn, will tend to speed peristalsis.

Healthy people produce a lot of bile but it is recycled in the body so all this labor is not lost. Without sufficient bile production, fats are not digested properly and bacteria passes from food into the intestines without being destroyed. This partially explains the long tradition of bitter apéritifs and digestive bitters in European culture. Properly speaking, we should look at apéritifs, beverages to be consumed before meals, and post-digestive aids that are carminative as well as bitter, i.e. aromatic bitters.

Here is where my posts on malaria and parasites and this apparent digression overlap. Joseph Dubonnet is credited with introducing an apéritif containing quinine that was used by the French in North Africa. The word may have been coined in 1846, but Vermouth or Vermuth was, as we have seen, already established by Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century and perhaps dated back to Ancient Egypt. The history is now less important than the practicality of this custom for today.

An apéritif is served before meals, sometimes with appetizers or finger food; they are generally diluted, often with something fizzy. Unless just a social custom, the purpose is to rev up the appetite and stimulate secretion of gastric juices. This is accomplished by triggering the bitter taste receptors on the back of the tongue that in turn send messages to the brain to crank up the production of gastric secretions because food is coming. As mentioned in yesterday's post, the receptors for taste are different so honey will be sensed more at the tip of the tongue and wormwood at the back. The brain gets all the right messages and everything is on track to produce the needed results. This also explains why liquids and food forms of herbs are so much better than the same herbs in capsules.

When I was first studying Ayurveda, Dr. Kashyap said that the bitter molecule is smaller and more complex than those of other tastes and for this reason, it can penetrate into small passages and release tiny deposits and impactions. I loved the poetry of this concept as well as the efficiency of having herbs that can roto root arteries and other spaces that are prone to deposits and congestion. The concept seems moreover to interface perfectly with the mystical visions of Hildegard of Bingen. I believe I understand how her mind worked more than the allegedly scientific mind because there was a time when everything important that was happening in my life was due to what I observed clairvoyantly, including for a short time a kind of x-ray vision. I therefore have no doubt that an even more accomplished mystic would have had valuable knowledge to transmit for posterity.

Now for some practical points. For those who have read my more mystical writings, it can come as no surprise that one of my favorite apéritifs is Cynar, made from artichokes and a dozen different herbs. It is regarded by some as an apéritif and by Campari, which now markets it, as a digestive bitter. The history of these drinks is hard to trace but my best guess would be that the bitterness of herbs like wormwood and quinine are such that every herbalist and food preparer would seek to make them more palatable and perhaps also more energetically balanced by adding soothing herbs and spices. For instance, angelica is a common additive as are anise and fennel. Fernet Branca is an excellent example of a bitter that is for me too bitter. It bites.

Angostura Bitters have a colorful history also. A German medical doctor named Siegert joined Simon Bolivar's independence movement at the time that Bolivar was surgeon-general of the military hospital in the town of Angostura. The soldiers were not just wounded by the enemy but suffering from tropical fevers and gastrointestinal complaints. The bitters are now produced in Trinidad and distributed worldwide. The formula is, of course, secret but it is clearly based on gentian. The taste is exotic and, like its cousins, Angostura Bitters allegedly make an excellent mosquito repellent. Moreover, like many apéritifs, it mixes especially well with citrus beverages.

We can go on and on, but the truth is, anyone can concoct a bitter that can be used either before or after meals. Though most such beverages have alcoholic content, not all do. It is important to understand solubility because herbs are complex and different extraction methods yield different results due to the solubility of some compounds in water and others in alcohol. In my opinion, this is a strong argument for using both but for those who don't want the alcohol, it's easy enough to evaporate off the alcohol through heating the extract.

Now, I want to go just one step further and take a shot at why Hildegard referred to "loins sickness" and others to libidinous conditions. Each element has a specific affinity for a particular chakra and corresponding endocrine gland. Congestion is a condition of excess water and the tendency to this excess may be constitutional or more based on climate and dietary habits. In winter, the water element tends to increase. Hildegard said to drink wormwood once every three days from May to October. The prescribing here is very correct.

In Ayurveda, there are many pairs of opposites. The three main ones are hot and cold, wet and dry, and light and heavy. However, there are other pairs that add nuance. Of the elements, only fire is hot and only water is wet. These two are perfect opposites:


In theory, if there were congestion, a spicy herb would antidote the situation, but if the problem were in the liver, it would also aggravate any toxins lurking there. This is but one reason that bitters are used and the other is that they both detoxify and decongest so they are suitable for both pitta and kapha types and in much smaller amounts for vata types.

The reference to loins and libido suggests excess water. This is frustrating and if not brought into balance would lead to suppression or licentious behavior. Suppression would add to swellings and congestion but there is not much to be said in favor of acting out either. By promoting liquification and drainage, balance can be brought to reproduce system as well as the digestive and eliminatory systems. The view is therefore encompassing and worthy of consideration.

Unlike the pungent and sweet tastes, there is no one single taste that is the perfect opposite of the bitter taste.

Bitter Taste
Herbs or food that are supportive of the adrenals like maca, ashwagandha, ginseng, and rhodiola.
Sweet herbs that are mucilaginous like marshmallow root or high in minerals like molasses or kombu.
Pungent herbs that are warming like cloves, cinnamon, galangal, and citrus peels.

An easy way to start making your own tonic is to order some bitter herbs in extract form and dilute them in a bottle of your favorite wine, brandy, or honey liqueurs (Bärenjäger for example). Then, you can add your own jazz or other extracts. For instance, you could make your own therapeutic bitter by starting with gentian or Artemisia annua extract and then you could add my Triple Zing and a few spices. It a tremendous amount of fun and you don't have to wait a year or two for your plants to be ready to harvest.

Many blessings,


Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2010


Parasite Protocols for Children || Blood Parasites || Types of Parasites
Miniature Snakes || Fashions in Medicine || How Parasites Die || Spirochetes
Moss amd Mosquitoes || Mosquito Bites || Artemisia Annua || Wormwood || Bitter Taste





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