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The Bitter Truth

Differentials + Insights


Here I want to provide some hints on telling when a particular plant might be more appropriate than another in any given situation. I’ve provided my assessment of energetics, basic actions and specific indications. As usual, I have not chosen a large number of herbs, preferring to focus on the remedies I know well. In this way I’m able to provide a better sense of the chosen plants even if there’s not a huge variety. All those represented here grow in the canyon or somewhere nearby, and make up my understanding of the archetypal bitters of this place.

Moonwort/Western Mugwort
(Artemisia ludoviciana and allied spp.) – Cool, dry – Liver Relaxing
This is perhaps my personal favorite of the bitters, its aromatic intensity teaming up with a profoundly bitter taste for an effect on the gut that is both protective and stimulating. Especially good for when the digestive juices dry up due to stress and the belly shuts down, leaving all your food fermenting and churning in your gut. Also very useful for those with hepatitis and other forms of hot liveredness (yes, I made that word up) or gallbladder congestion that manifests as an inability to digest food, bloating, looking a bit greenish yellow around the gills and a frontal headache.
(Taraxacum officinale) – Cool, dry – Liver Relaxing
An intensely diuretic bitter with a talent for cooling and relaxing the overheated livers of those affected by solvents, hepatitis and alcoholism. It’s also a prime choice for those with digestive problems related to high blood pressure, water retention, gout and other overly anabolic leanings.

Oregon Grape Root (Berberis, formerly Mahonia spp.) – Cool, dry – Liver Stimulating
These golden tinged roots are incredibly, mouth frighteningly bitter. They’re so bitter they’ll convince your gut and your mouth to secrete copious digestive juices and enzymes RIGHT NOW. Excellent for people with a pattern of dry mouth, gum disease, low blood pressure, constipation, dry skin, bloating and a red tongue with white-yellow fuzzies. It’ll often totally right the constipation in small doses while completely bypassing the need for harsh laxatives. Oregon Grape Root stimulates a lazy, overtired liver – perking it up with a gentle nudge (or sound kick, depending on what you need) and is a good non-diuretic bitter for those have low blood pressure, are very dry or otherwise need to avoid excess urination. It’s also quite lovely at clearing heat and removing infection throughout the body, from toothaches to bladder infections.

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) – Cool/Warm, Dry – Liver Stimulating
Another fragrant bitter, though gentler than Mugwort. It excels where there are signs of heat with dryness, pelvic congestion, bloating and feeling of stuckness in the belly. It often works quite nicely for various forms of food poisoning (as do Mugwort and Oregon Grape Root). Although, it can taste and seem quite innocuous, I have sometimes had Yarrow activate digestion where nothing else would work.

Blisswort/Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.) – Cool, Dry – Liver Relaxing
Not all Skullcaps qualify as truly bitter, but the Scutellaria of my Canyon borders on nauseatingly bitter. Intensely relaxing, anti-spasmodic and digestively stimulating. Skullcap is a great remedy for those have digestive issues related to tension or anxiety. This can be especially helpful for women (or men) recovering from eating disorders, the nervine properties serving to relax food fear and allow them to be chill enough to listen to their bodies and focus on the experience of eating. Especially good people who tend to get edgy, reactive and even hostile when anyone expects them to eat, or stop eating.

Vervain (Verbena and Glandularia spp.) – Cool, Dry – Liver Relaxing
Much of what I said about Skullcap as a nerve relaxant and digestive stimulant also applies to Vervain. Its unique abilities shine in people who are prone to compulsive, hormonally motivated food cravings, especially those women with who have a hard time with the second part (post-ovulation) of their menstrual cycle. Their PMS often manifests as the need to “bathe in blood” and go on a feeding frenzy. They’re easily irritated, and may actually bite you if you come any closer to their chocolate. Vervain cools down an overheated, tense liver that feels like it’s tied in knots and the tension is radiating out into their bodies and lives.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) – Warm, dry – Liver Stimulating
The bitterness and aromatic qualities of this plant seems to greatly vary depending on spp., location and time of harvest. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful digestive tonic that not only stimulates the juices but like all aromatic, also moves energy (and wind) through the body when it is stuck. Nice where there’s extreme fatigue, some edema and bloating. A very nice kidney remedy as well.