Did you know that your heart is able to taste? In 2015, a team at the University of Queensland in Australia discovered that there are 12 different types of taste receptors located in the heart. That’s right, nearly half of the 25 types of taste receptors in the human genome that are coded to detect the bitter flavor are not located in your mouth, but are instead present within the heart itself.
The fact that the heart’s taste receptors can only detect the bitter flavor might seem random, but when looked at through the prism of Chinese herbal medicine, this makes complete sense. When practicing Chinese herbal medicine, the combination of tastes (flavors) and nature (energetic temperature) inherently present within an herb dictates its medicinal use.
There are five basic flavors in Chinese medicine– salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and acrid – one for each of the five elements. Each of the five main viscera belongs to a particular element as well. There is water, which governs the Kidneys; Wood, which governs the Liver; Fire, which governs the Heart; Earth, which governs the Spleen; And Metal, which governs the Lungs. Thus, there is a flavor that belongs to each of them that acts as a catalyst of sorts to either build the resources of a particular element, or instigate an energetic movement inherent within each element and viscera to harmonize an unbalanced system.
The Fire element governs the Heart, and the flavor with which it is associated is, yep - you guessed it – bitter! The bitter flavor is particularly useful in clearing heat from the body, as heat is a byproduct of fire. Due to the fact that heat rises, the bitter flavor has a natural counteraction of descending which is useful to eliminate excess heat (often seen as inflammation) from the body. This is often why after someone has their morning coffee they must urinate or move their bowels – the bitter flavor is picked up by the heart itself, inciting a staggeringly elegant cascade of energetic events, which removes heat from the system naturally as the body was designed to!
When someone drinks something bitter, the Heart can literally taste it, which triggers movement within the body. The ancient Chinese knew that the bitter flavor affected the Heart. Even in today’s world we associate bitter with the heart – every Valentine’s day when we buy a box of chocolates (made with bitter cacao) for our sweetie.
Tasting your herbal medicine is essential if you want to achieve the best results. Preparations such as herbal pills and tinctures preserve some of the flavors, but are generally less effective than preparing raw herbs in a decoction (herbal matter boiled in water for an amount of time determined by the herbalist). Classically, Chinese herbal medicine was almost always prepared as a decoction, and still to this day it is the most effective way of extracting the maximum possible constituents for consumption. Through a specific group of individual herbs prescribed by a trained practitioner, the perfect balance of the five flavors can be reached to correct imbalances preventing harmonious relationship of the five elements. When herbs are all boiled together to create a formula, the resulting medicine is a strong tasting, strong acting energetic synthesis. Your taste buds may not like the taste at first, but your heart will love it!
Come in to Alchemy today for your herbal consultation. If you’re worried that you might not have the time to cook a decoction, ask about our medicinal preparation services!