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Bitter herbs

I’ve read some great books lately. Two of the books I’m likely going to draw some blog topics from are:
“Survival of the Sickest” by Dr. Sharon Moalem
“The Brain that Changes Itself” by Dr. Norman Doidge

In “Survival of the Sickest,” I am reminded of the response that my patients give when they first try a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) customized herbal tea. I usually warn my patients to expect to hate me after the first sip. I tell them that it may taste like the worst thing that they have ever tried to drink. Of course, that’s not always true–some patients like their herbs from day one–but it’s often pretty close.

We’ve actually evolved to dislike bitter tasting things. It’s believed that this is to warn us away from eating plants that contain toxins. For example, there’s a compound called scopalamine in jimsonweed that causes temporary madness.

The problem is that many bitter tasting compounds are actually really healthy for us. Most TCM herbs are bitter tasting. Most medicinal herbs, in general, are bitter tasting. Maybe our expanding coffee-drinking culture will actually help us get used to bitter tastes and help us to down those medicinal herbs that can help us get and stay well.

The funny thing is that those same patients who baulk at the TCM teas initially often say that they don’t mind the tea as much after their second week of herbs. And sometimes they even say that they LIKE the herbs by the third week and beyond! I’m one of those people. I now like most of the herbal teas that I make.

2000 B.C. – Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. – That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. – That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. – That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. – That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. – That antibiotic doesn’t work anymore. Here, eat this root”
–Anonymous

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