Bitter Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects

Bitter taste is called as Tikta Rasa in Sanskrit. Let us learn in detail about Bitter taste, what are the general qualities of substances having Bitter taste, how it affects health, mind, Tridosha and diseases, adverse effects on excessive intake etc.

Effect on Tridosha

Bitter taste decreases Kapha and Pitta. It increases Vata Dosha.

Qualities

Rooksha, Sheeta Laghu – dry, cold and light

Composition

Bitter taste is composed of Vayu (air) and Akasha (ether) elements.
When you think of air and ether together, you could imagine lightness, hollowness, cold and dryness. These three are the qualities of food having Tikta Rasa.
Bitter has air and ether elements, so is Vata Dosha. Hence bitter increases Vata.
When you blow air forcibly on to fire (Pitta), the fire extinguishes. Hence, bitter pacifies Kapha Dosha.
Because it is opposite to heaviness (Kapha quality), it pacifies Kapha.

neem twig as tooth brush

Effect on body and mind

Soon after tasting bitter substance, it destroys other tastes. But over a period of time, it helps to improve tasting capacity of tongue and helps to relieve related diseases like anorexia.
Mukhavaishadyakara – cleanses oral cavity
Kantha Shodhana – cleanses and detoxifies throat
Mukhashoshakara – causes dryness of mouth
Shaityakara – acts as coolant
Harshana – causes happiness, elevates mood.
Deepana – increases digestion strength
Pachana – carminative
Avrushya – decreases sexual interest and performance
Krumighna – helps to relieve intestinal worms
Rakta Prasadana – detoxifies blood
Ahrudya – not good for heart
Kaphaghna – useful to relieve sputum from respiratory tract
Vranaghna – relieves wound,
Puyaghna – heals wounds without pus formation, reduces pus formation
Lekhana – has scraping effect over the body channels
Kledahara – decreases moistness
Medahara – decreases cholesterol
Vishaghna – anti toxic
Dahahara – relieves burning sensation
Swedaghna – decreases sweating
Kandughna – relieves itching
Kushtaghna – useful in skin disorders. Most of the herbs that are used in skin diseases like Karanja, Neem, etc have bitter as one among their tastes.
Stanya Shodhana – cleanses breast milk
Lekhana – has scraping effect

Jwaraghna – useful in fever. Most of the bitter tasting herbs like neem, Giloy etc have anti microbial and antipyretic benefits. Hence, useful in fever.

Bitter taste cleanses the mouth and destroys the organs of taste (makes perception of other tastes impossible.
Tikta by itself is not tasty, but it cures anorexia, worms, thirst, poison, skin diseases, loss of consciousness, fever, nausea, burning sensations;
Bitter mitigates Pitta and Kapha, dries up moisture, fat, muscle-fat marrow, faeces and urine;
Tikta Rasa is easily digestible, increases intelligence, cold in potency, dry (causes dryness), cleanses breast milk, and throat.
Used in excess, it causes depletion of Dhatus (tissues) and diseases of Vata origin.

Generally bitters and pungent tasting herbs are non-aphrodisiacs and aggravate  Vata except for Giloy, long pepper and Garlic.

Examples

Vetiver, neem, turmeric, Loha Bhasma (iron)

Symptoms of excessive bitter taste consumption

Excess of Bitter causes increase of Vata, leading to following symptoms –
Due to dryness, roughness, non sliminess, bitter depletes Rasa dhatu (essence part of digestion), blood (rudhira), Mamsa (muscle tissue), Meda (fat tissue), Asthi (bone), Majja (marrow), Shukra (semen, female reproductive system)
Dhatushosha – emaciation and dryness of tissues
Srotokharatva – dryness, roughness, brittle-ness of body channels
Daurbalya – debility, tiredness
Karshya – emaciation, weight loss
Glapana -weariness
Murcha – fainting, unconsciousness. Excess of bitter tasting food / medicine leads to depletion of sugar levels in the blood leading to dizziness and fainting.
Mukhashosha – dryness of mouth.

While taking food,Bitter taste should be consumed in the last half part of the diet, after having consumed sweet, sour, salt and pungent tastes.

Contraindications

Vata imbalance (because, bitter taste increases Vata and causes further imbalance), lean, emaciated person.

Characteristc features of bitter taste

Bitter taste is ascertained by –
weakening of taste perception of the tongue.
Such substances by themselves are not tasteful ;
Causes non-sliminess, clarity (Vaishadya)
Shosha – dryness of tongue and
Prahlada – produces delight

Herbs with bitter taste

Patoli,
Trayanti – Gentiana kurroa,
Valaka,
Usira – Vetiveria zizanioides,
Chandana – Sandalwood,
Bhunimba – The creat (whole plant) – Andrographis paniculata,
Nimba – Neem – Azadirachta indica,
Katuka – Picrorhiza kurroa,
Tagara – Indian Valerian (root) – Valeriana wallichi,
Aguru,
Vatsaka – Holarrhena antidysentirica,
Naktamala,
Turmeric and tree turmeric,
Musta – Nut grass (root) – Cyperus rotundus,
Murva,
Atarushaka – Adhatoda vasica,
Patha – Cyclea peltata,
Apamarga –  Prickly Chaff Flower – Achyranthes aspera,
Kamsya (bronze), Ayas (iron),
Guduchi – Tinospora cordifolia,
Dhanvayasaka,
Mahat Pancamula – Bilva, Agnimantha, Shyonaka, Gambhari, Patala
the two Vyaghri – Brihati and Kantakari,
Visala, Ativisha, Vacha etc

References:
Ashtanga Hrudayam Sutrasthana 10th chapter

Bitter taste has coldness. Kapha also has coldness. How astringent, being a coolant, can decrease Kapha Dosha?

Being hot or being cold is one way in which substances affect Doshas. There is another thing called Maha Bhutas – basic elements.

Bitter taste has air and ether elements. So, clearly, there is lightness, there is dryness. Both these qualities are pro Vata and anti Kapha. Hence, bitter substances Increase Vata Dosha and decrease Kapha Dosha.

11 thoughts on “Bitter Taste – Qualities, Health Benefits, Side Effects”

  1. Dr. your articles are very nice to read indeed. Explained in way that a layperson can understand and also short & sweet 🙂 Thanks a lot.

    Reply
  2. What can be the causes of water retention (swelling in legs)? Someone I know developed this problem only when staying in one particular city (while going back and forth between two cities within few days), so it seemed that the trigger factor was most likely in the water or food…

    What makes the body retain water like this to cause swelling?

    Reply
  3. Hello! many thanks for this article! I noticed that taking something bitter at the end of a meal helps me to stop eating and that it systematically cuts my appetite. and I am trying to understand why and find the logic. is it because bitter taste makes perception of other tastes impossible?

    Reply
    • Hi, bitter is drying in nature, because of its air and ether elements. It dries up digestive juices and hence stops hunger, when taken at the end of meals.

      Reply
      • Hi, when taken at the end of meals, it dries up the extra juices.
        When taken on empty stomach, the digestive fire (Agni) will be already high due to hunger. Bitter is of Air and ether elements. So, it fans air into the fire, leading to improvement of fire.

        Reply

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