Herbalism is more complex than matching an herb to an illness. Herbalism is matching an herb to a person. We want to use the herbal energetics of a plant to match the energetic needs of the person so that body balance is achieved. One of the categorical platforms we can use to do this is TASTE.
In Western Herbalism taste is broken into 5 categories, and each category is indicative of certain actions. This protocol enables us to determine how an herb will be useful in balancing body systems. Here are the 5 taste groups; pungent, bitter, salty, sour, sweet. Learning to recognize taste patterns is fundamental in the identification and understanding of herbal energetics. If you’re like me, and walk down the trail gazing at plant life, learning taste can be the first direct understanding of a plants values. Keeping it simple, let’s discuss the general actions of the 5 taste groups for a broader understanding of herbalism.
PUNGENT; these herbs are commonly used for digestion. They are high in volatile oils and are stimulating, tending to be warming and drying. Many culinary herbs are pungent such as rosemary, fennel, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, cinnamon. Culinary herbs are carminative herbs, hence culinary herbs are pungent, they help digestive upsets of all kinds.
BITTER; these herbs are eliminating, helping to rid the body of toxins. They are cooling and drying, and are commonly used for digestive stimulation, eliminating parasites, cooling fever, promoting liver and gall bladder functions, and balancing blood sugar. Bitter herbs are alterative herbs which promote overall health by improving the bodies ability to process metabolic wastes. Some of our most traditional bitter herbs are dandelion, burdock, yarrow, Oregon grape, and goldenseal.
SALTY; salty herbs are nourishing herbs. These herbs offer the body high contents of vitamins and minerals. Seaweeds are all in this group, as well as herbs such as nettle, chickweed, oatstraw, alfalfa, red clover. Salty herbs can be eaten as food and can be utilized to bolster the bodies general health.
SOUR; sour tasting herbs are astringent. They have a toning effect on tissue. Generally fruits and berries are considered sour because of their effects on the body. Sour herbs stabilize and bind, and tend to be cooling. These herbs are traditionally used for pro-lapsed tissues, leaky tissues, and overly relaxed tissues. Examples would be ulcers, hemorrhoids, swollen sore throats, hay fever, diarrhea.
SWEET; this wonderful taste indicates nourishing and soothing. Sweet herbs such as marshmallow, licorice, slippery elm, aloe Vera, are high in food values and soothing to body tissues. They are commonly used for building, strengthening, moistening and healing. These herbs soothe inflammation and dryness, and modulate the immune system, and are particularly useful for those who get sick often.
Begin by simply tasting your culinary herbs to discern tastes and understand actions. Then get out in the wild places and practice tasting and understanding. LEARNING HERBS offers a beautiful online immersion program called THE TASTE OF HERBS if you’re interested in furthering your studies. Learning to match herbal actions to a person is the fundamental key of herbalism.