Bitter herbs, commonly referred to as bitter tonics, digestive stimulants and aromatic digestives, come in many shapes and forms and have been used since ancient times. Even today many different cultures appreciate bitter foods and drinks and use them regularly to improve digestive function.
Bitter Herbs – Don’t Mask The Taste
The bitterness of a chosen herb stimulates specific receptors, predominantly found in the mouth, known as the TAS2R receptors. Increased vagal stimulation is thought to be implicated in the activation of the TAS2R receptors. It is marked by an increase in many different digestive elements including gastric acid, gastrin, pepsin, gallbladder motility and pancreas activation, thus resulting in increased digestive enzymes. A common theory proposed to explain this significant increase in digestive power is found in the fact that many bitter plants are poisonous (1).
Dandelion Root, A Classic Bitter
Taraxacum officinale, known as dandelion, is a bitter herb indicated in a number of different instances. Both the leaf and the root are used and possess very similar actions. Dandelion is commonly used for dyspepsia, improvement of appetite and stimulation of digestion as well as jaundice and constipation (2). Suggested use for dandelion include gallstones (3) and to increase bile secretion from the liver (4). Apart from dandelion’s main action as a bitter tonic, it possesses a number of secondary actions. Bone lists choleretic (the root), diuretic (the leaf), mild laxative and antirheumatic properties (2).
Dandelion possesses a number of different chemical constituents. Acids and phenols, coumarins, flavonoids and terpenoids can be found in both the leaf and the root of the plant. A high amount of minerals and vitamins are also found in varying concentrations of leaf and root including potassium and vitamin A (5). The primary contraindication for dandelion is biliary and intestinal obstruction. Apart from that the there are very little warnings associated with the use of dandelion. Toxicity of is reported as being very low and there are few warnings and precautions listed apart from being a possible allergen (2).