Another way to understand the energetics of plants is through their taste. The concept of taste is most developed within Traditional Chinese Medicine. The tastes in Chinese Herbal Theory are: pungent, salty, sour, bitter, and sweet.
PUNGENT: The pungent herbs are warming and spicy. They awaken the senses and get things moving. They are ideal for people who feel cold, damp, or sluggish, as they can increase circulation and bring warmth from the core out to the limbs. Caution: a small dose goes a long way! While pungent herbs are generally warming, there are some that are cooling. Most of our common culinary herbs are classified as pungent.
SALTY: The salty herbs are high in vitamins and minerals and can be considered as the most nourishing and food-like of the herbs. In herbalism “salty” refers to herbs that are high in micronutrients; they may have a mineral taste instead of a salty taste. Salty herbs affect the fluids in your body: some can act as diuretics, others are lymphatic, helping with the flow of lymph fluid. Seaweed and Stinging Nettle are two examples.
SOUR: Unlike biting into a lemon, the “sour” taste in herbalism tends to be more subtle. Most fruits and astringent herbs are classified as sour. The sour herbs stimulate digestion, build strength, and reduce inflammation. They tend to be cooling, but not dramatically…….closer to neutral so most people can enjoy eating fruit. Many of these herbs are high in antioxidants. In contrast to supplements, it is ideal to search out your antioxidants in whole form, and the sour herbs are the perfect place to look.
SWEET: The “sweet” herbs nourish and build and modulate the immune system…….however they don’t necessarily taste sweet! Most of the adaptogenic herbs are classified as sweet. Adaptogenic herbs are my favorite ~ they broadly support overall health. They can modulate the stress response, which improves a person’s negative experience of stress and allows them to feel stronger and less agitated. Because the negative effects of stress are so far reaching, these herbs can ease inflammation, one of the causes of chronic disease. They can help you to sleep, improving alertness and energy. They can modulate the immune system, meaning fewer illnesses. Some sweet herbs may be slightly warming or slightly moistening, but most are fairly neutral so are beneficial for all constitutions.
BITTER: The “bitter” herbs stimulate digestion and often have a cooling and draining effect. They can help to modulate inflammation and also are important for liver health. Bitter is the least liked of the tastes. Even tasting something small that is bitter activates the entire digestive system. The taste causes you to salivate, which also releases important gastric enzymes that help digest your proteins and stimulates bile production, which helps you digest fats. A lot of digestive problems are due to a deficiency of bitters. Energetically bitters are cooling and drying, so good for people who are warm and damp. However, bitters are good for all constitutions, especially when combined with other herbs.
YOUR HERBAL SWEET SPOT
Finding your herbal sweet spot reminds me of the story of Goldilocks, she had to try out each bed until she found the one that felt just right to her. The art of herbalism is discovering what is “just right” for you. It comes down to common sense: on a scorching day do you want a hot bowl of soup or a cold glass of lemonade? To find your “herbal sweet spot”: 1. determine your constitution (are you hot/cold,
dry/damp) Refer to Quiz A & B in my last post.
2. determine your current energetics (how are you feeling NOW?
3. determine the herbs/spices that will bring you