Category Archives: Focus on Food

When Bitter is Better

When Bitter is Better

We have six basic tastes in Ayurveda. They are sweet, sour, salty, astringent, bitter and pungent. As a general rule, it is good to have a little of each taste in your diet to help ensure a variety of enzymes and balanced energies. However, each dosha and therefore each individual, benefits from different proportions of each taste. This is why different diets are recommended for different individuals based on their doshic type, their current imbalances and even their time of life.

In Ayurveda, we follow the natural rhythms of life. That is why we prescribe eating foods that are naturally available during the current season…unless you have a severe imbalance and are on a strict diet for a serious health condition. That said, Spring is the Kapha season and the season when Pitta is beginning to accumulate in transition to Summer. During this time of year, a healthy helping of bitter greens helps to reduce the heat in the body and supports liver and blood cleansing as the body sheds the fat and toxins it has accumulated over the long, cold Winter.


While bitter is generally not our go to taste, once you tune into how it affects you and your health, you are sure to appreciate it and even crave it from time to time. You will also recognize that it is not as supportive when you are trying to build and tone tissue, such as during pregnancy or during periods of long-term emaciation or debilitation.

The bitter taste is deeply cleansing to the body because it scrapes fat and toxins. It improves all other tastes, alleviates thirst, stimulates a healthy appetite, kills germs, and clears parasites from the GI tract. It serves to clear heat, dry ama (toxins), clear congestion, purify the blood, cleanse and support the liver, all while draining excess moisture from the body. It can reduce fainting tendencies and also benefits the skin, relieving burning, itching and swelling. 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. 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. It can also cause emaciation, excess coldness, extreme dryness, constipation, malaise, confusion, giddiness (as in being spaced out), disorientation, dizziness or loss of consciousness. Too much bitter taste also has the capacity to dry out our vitality (ojas).1


What are some of the best examples of bitter food choices? Try grapefruit, lemons, bitter melons, asparagus, collard greens, garlic, kale, mustard greens, parsley, basil, calamus, chamomile, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, poppy seeds, rosemary, turmeric, castor oil, dark chocolate (purer the better), coffee (in limited quantities) or licorice.

Commonly used bitter herbs include: angelica, chamomile, dandelion, goldenseal, horehound, milk thistle and mints like peppermint.2


Here are some bitter-tasting recipes perfect for the Spring season, particularly for people with dominant Pitta and Kapha. The bitter taste can be too depleting for Vatas and should only be consumed in moderation.

Bitter Greens With Mustard Vinaigrette

31 Hearty Recipes for Bitter Greens

14 Deliciously Healthy Green Smoothie Recipes

In the Spring, enjoy numerous green foods to satisfy the cleansing bitter taste. Same goes for Summer. Come Fall and early Winter, reduce your consumption of bitters and greens and only consume them cooked for easier digestion.

Let the bitter taste reduce your tissues, your toxins and your heat and inflammation…naturally. Enjoy!





The sole purpose of this article is to provide information about the tradition of Ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have an acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or email Karen Callahan at

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