Bitter Plants - why we love them and why you need them

Historically, bitter foods have been a part of every culinary tradition.

In the West, our love of processed foods has meant that bitter foods have largely been exiled from our menus.  Our taste for sweet and salty foods has reigned supreme.

But why does this matter? The answer lies in the taste.

Because bitter plants are essential for good health.

The Bitter Truth

First a little bit about your taste buds.  Taste buds are actually highly specialised nerve cells.

When you taste something bitter and your mouth starts to water, that saliva actually contains tiny enzymes which begin the process of digestion.  From there, the message travels to your nervous system.  It starts a chain reaction, signalling your body to release all the chemicals needed to break down your food and absorb the nutrients that you need to live. These chemicals include the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, digestive enzymes, and bile from the liver and gallbladder.

This means that without this taste, our bodies do not produce as much of these chemicals as we need to digest our food.

A lack of these digestive chemicals can lead to:

  • Bowel dysfunction
  • Digestive problems
  • Bowel irregularities
  • Bloating and abdominal discomfort
  • Food intolerances

And the health problems don’t stop at the gut. If you don’t release bile properly then you can’t digest fats, which means that you:

  • don’t absorb your fat-soluble vitamins; and
  • don’t excrete fats that are made in the body properly, such as your hormones and cholesterol.

Suddenly your hormonal and cholesterol balance is thrown- all because of a lack of bitter tastes!

Benefits of Bitter Plants

There are many benefits of regularly consuming bitter plants, and most of them have to do with the fact that bitter flavours stimulate digestive chemicals and liver function.  Bitter plants can:

  • Help manage sugar cravings
  • Soothe gas and bloating
  • Relieve digestive discomfort
  • Calm an upset or queasy stomach
  • Balance appetite
  • Encourage regular bowel motions
  • Increase absorption of nutrients, specifically the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Improve skin
  • Support Balanced hormones
  • Support healthy cholesterol levels

The Best Bitter Herbs

Some of our favourite bitter herbs are listed below.  Ideally you want to use plants that are either straight out of your garden, or Certified Organic. So you get all the benefits, and none of the toxins that your liver is trying to clear out!


Calendula – the petals of this beautiful marigold have a bitter taste and a sticky feel.  This is due to high levels of calming and antiseptic resins.  Aside from having all the benefits of a bitter herb, Calendula also helps to heal wounds in the digestive tract.

Dandelion Root

Dandelion Root – This bitter herb has been shown to support healthy liver and gallbladder function. It also contains the fibre inulin which helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut.

Globe Artichoke

Globe Artichoke – The “big gun” of bitter plants, Globe Artichoke has been shown to stimulate bile flow. This helps with fat digestion and bowel regularity. It has also been shown to support blood lipid balance and support healthy cholesterol levels.

Daily Ritual

As you can see, bitter plants are essential for good health.  Without them we leave ourselves open to a host of health problems.  Here are a few ways to get your bitter plants into your life every day:

  • Start each day with a cup of herbal tea which contains bitter plants
  • Have a small salad with bitter greens before lunch and/or dinner- think rocket dressed with olive oil and lemon
  • Swap in dark chocolate for your sweet fix (70% cocoa or higher)

But what about the taste?

Here’s the deal- if you’re not used to eating bitter plants, you’re going to find them, well, bitter.  But as you continue to use these plants, you’ll find that you become more accustomed to the taste until one day, you realise that you kind of… like it.

So get into your bitter foods!  Your body will thank you for it.

By Emily Boese

Medical Herbalist and R&D Manager at Artemis Natural Healthcare

Looking for an easy way to add bitter plants to your daily diet?  Try a cup of Artemis’ Certified Organic Liver Detox Tea first thing in the morning. Buy it and other Organic Artemis Teas from our secure online shop now.

We'd Love Your Feedback

Do you regularly include bitter plants in your diet? If so what’s your favourite?

Do you have any delicious recipes using bitter plants you would like to share?