Herbs; Its all a matter of Taste

So if you think that Buckley’s cough mixture tastes bad, I’ll participate in a little one-upmanship and tell you about Chinese Herbs.  But before we go there, I will explain why taste is all-important.  Chinese medicine classifies herbs in a number of ways but one way that is particularly important is taste.  There are six “tastes” which are: Salty, Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Bland and Spicy.  Each of these tastes has a medicinal function.  For example:

Salty taste: softens hardness and disperses (breaks up hard masses)

Sweet taste: tonifies, harmonizes and moistens (increases energy, balances and increases

fluid accumulation)

Sour taste: astringent and binds (prevents leakage of fluids)

Bitter taste: drains and dries (diuretic, antibiotic)

Bland: leaches out damp (diuretic)

Spicy: invigorates and disperses (diaphoretic or sweat inducing and cardio-tonic)

In our western society unfortunately, we tend to have too much sweet, salty and spicy tastes and not enough of the others. This might be contributing to the epidemic of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and obesity.  The problem is then compounded when we add substances that actually never existed in their current forms in nature, such as high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and salt.  These skew things much further out of balance than they would otherwise be, if foods were strictly prepared from scratch without additives, preservatives and pesticides.  A perfectly balanced meal is one that contains all six tastes.  Sometimes tastes are combined, and sometimes they are part of one course.  When people become sick, herbs are used to address the imbalance of manifestations as the following example will illustrate:

Influenza with the following symptoms:

Fever and chills (chills predominant) cough, sore throat,

nasal discharge, fatigue and headache

The combination of herbs that would relieve this condition would need to be:

Bitter: get rid of inflammation and pathogens, stop cough/nasal discharge

Spicy: to help induce sweating, increase metabolism

Sweet: increase energy, soothe sore throat

As you can probably tell, Buckley’s mixture is a combination of tastes not unlike the one described above and what both have in common is that they taste foul.  However, a patented mixture like Buckley’s is a “one size fits all” approach, whereas, a herbal prescription is individualized to fit the presentation.  In addition to tastes, herbs have specific affinities for different places in the body.  For example, herbs that are flowers tend to effect the upper part of the body, vines effect the limbs, roots and minerals effect the lower body.  However, these are just generalizations and not without exceptions.  When Mary Poppins sang that “just a spoon full of sugar, helps the medicine go down” she was perhaps inadvertently referring to synergism between tastes.  If Julie Andrews isn’t to your taste (if you’ll pardon the pun), the Eurythmics also alluded to it in “Sweet Dreams”.

Be Well.

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