The bitter taste is quite familiar. More often than not, it is a flavor that is actively avoided, although some people truly enjoy it. However you feel about it, when used appropriately, the bitter taste has innumerable therapeutic benefits.
The Bitter Taste – At A Glance
|Balances:||pitta and kapha|
|Primary Elements:||air and ether|
|Virya (temperature):||cooling (the coldest of the cooling tastes)|
|Vipaka (post-digestive effect):||pungent|
|Gunas (associated qualities):||cold, light, dry|
|Associated Positive Emotions:||clarity, introspection, self-awareness, healthy detachment from worldly things|
|Emotions of Excess:||cynicism, rejection, boredom, isolation, separation, loneliness|
|Location on the Tongue:||middle edges on the left and right sides (and a small band across the middle of the tongue, connecting these edges)|
|Affinity for Organs:||pancreas, liver, spleen|
|Most Affected Tissues:||plasma, blood, fat, nervous, and reproductive tissues|
|Direction of Movement:||downward, descending (activates apana vayu)|
|Additional Actions:||stimulates the nervous system, reduces fat, reduces bone marrow, inhibits sexual energy, is antipyretic (reduces fever), anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, cholagogue (promotes healthy flow of bile), laxative, anthelmintic (deworming), alterative, and diruretic|
Examples – Substances that Illustrate the Bitter Taste
|Vegetables||bitter melon, burdock root, leafy greens (like kale, collards, dandelion greens or yellow dock), eggplant, jerusalem artichokes|
|Other||sesame seeds, sesame oil, coffee, dark chocolate|
|Spices||cumin, dill, fenugreek, saffron, turmeric|
The bitter taste is deeply cleansing to the body because it scrapes fat and toxins.2 It improves all other tastes, alleviates thirst, stimulates a healthy appetite, kills germs, and clears parasites from the GI tract.2 It serves to clear heat, dry ama, clear congestion, purify the blood, cleanse and support the liver, while draining excess moisture from the body.2, 1 It can reduce fainting tendencies and also benefits the skin, relieving burning, itching and swelling.2 It also tones the muscles and skin, relieves intestinal gas, promotes peristalsis, and serves as a digestive tonic – kindling the digestive fire with its dry, light qualities.2 The bitter taste even enhances the release of digestive secretions and digestive enzymes.1
If overused, the bitter taste can induce nausea, weaken the kidneys and the lungs (due to the extreme drying quality), deplete the tissues, and cause dry mouth, debility, bone loss, osteoporosis, and reduced sperm production.2 It can also cause emaciation, excess coldness, extreme dryness, constipation, malaise, confusion, giddiness (as in being spaced out), disorientation, dizziness or loss of consciousness.2 Too much bitter taste also has the capacity to dry out ojas.1
The bitter taste can exacerbate the situation if there is elevated vata in the system, excess cold quality, extreme dryness or roughness, emaciation, or a serious deficiency of any kind. Bitter taste should also be minimized during pregnancy.
1 Pole, Sebastian. Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice. London: Churchill Livingston, 2006. Print. 65-66.
2 Lad, Vasant. Textbook of Ayurveda Vol I: Fundamental Principles of Ayurveda. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2002. Print. 241-242, 247-248.
3 Lad, Usha and Dr. Vasant Lad. Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing. 2nd ed. Albuquerque: The Ayurvedic Press, 2006. Print. 232-238