The Taste of Chinese Herbs

herbal formula with ingreidentsThe flavors of Chinese herbs are more than just what they taste like.  It describes the describe their qualities and actions which the herbs have on health.  Sweet, bitter, acrid, sour, and bland are the most common flavors with Chinese medicine.  They each have a specific function within the herbal formula.

For example, sweet herbs tonify the body’s energy. This does not mean the herbs have sugar but they are sweet in nature.  Some sweet herbs do taste pretty sweet such as licorice but others, such as astragalus, does not taste very sweet at all.   While bitter herbs clear heat.

Chinese medicine also describes some functions of the herbs according to temperature.  Historically as Chinese medicine physicians were discovering new uses for herbs they would taste the herbs for not only the flavor but also a temperature.  For example, mint feels cooling, so it would be a cold herbs, while hot peppers are hot, so it is a hot herbs.

The flavors and feelings an herb gives off, as well as the body’s reaction to the herbs factor into this process, dictated what the taste and temperature of the herbs. Cold herbs will be used to clear heat and many cold herbs often have antiinflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

A traditional way to test if the herb is of high quality and if the herb is authentic is by tasting it.  This process is called organoleptics.  Sophisticated chinese medicine doctors and herbal pharmacists know an herb’s quality from tasting, smelling, and the look of the herbs.

Joseph Alban, L.Ac.
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