Top 4 Bitter Herbs (and Their Uses)

dandelion in grass

Bitter has a bad rep, and that’s no surprise to us. Bitter people are jealous, angry, and mean, while sweet people are likeable, kind, and charming. There is a running assumption that anything bitter is soured, in bad taste, and potentially rotten. But what about the good side of bitter? Is there such a thing? Yes.

Consider this: coffee is bitter. Beer is bitter. Cocoa (the main ingredient in chocolate) is bitter. And some of your favorite mixed drinks probably have bitters in them.

Bitter has a bad rep, but it is the very essence of bitterness that gives other flavors strength. When you consider a great meal or a delicious drink, does it only have one flavor note? Probably not. That’s the beauty of cooking and culinary adventures—the blending of flavors from sweet to salty to bitter to savory creates a harmony for your taste buds. It is the opposition of flavors that create intrigue, leaving you wanting more. And that’s why we’re here. Today, we are going to adventure into our top 4 bitter herbs and how useful they are: to your health, your culinary adventures, and, most importantly, to your palate.

1. Chamomile 

Chamomile is more than just a beautiful flower. It’s also a good companion plant that is said to revive failing plants if planted near them.  Another practical use for the plant is to create an infusion spray that can be used on seedlings to prevent damping off. Or you can speed up the decomposition rate of your compost pile by adding a few chamomile leaves in with the mix.

It has a lot of benefits for you, too.

Chamomile Can Improve Your Health

Chamomile is a bitter nervine herb that is known for its calming effects. Chamomile flowers are used as medicinal herb, cosmetic agent, herbal tea, aromatherapy ingredient.

As antispasmodic, it can be used to relieve stomachache and gas pain, menstrual cramps, indigestion, diarrhea and ulcer. It is also a very good laxative. As nervine, it is slightly sedative and can be used to induce sleep and dull pain. It also helps to alleviate anxiety and depression, dyspepsia, flatulence, and other stomach ailments. It is used as a mild antiseptic, and is also a good appetite restorer which makes it popular with cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy.

Chamomile Can “Spice” up Your Cooking

While most chamomile is consumed in teas, it is also found in some desserts, like cake. An organic gastronomical treat, you can eat chamomile flowers fresh by tossing some into your salad or your favorite lemonade.

Crushing the dried flower heads or mashing the fresh flower heads of chamomile can bring your oatmeal to the next level. Here are some other things you can do with chamomile or chamomile-infused simple syrup:

  • Infuse it in jams and spreads.
  • Add flavor notes in a fruit-crisp topping.
  • Add to sorbet bases or ice cream.
  • Infuse your favorite lemonade or tea.

Flavorful Tip: Chamomile works best with other fruits that grow during the same season, which is late May through mid-July.

Where Can I Get Chamomile?

Gather the leaves and flowers anytime during the summer and dry them for later use or use fresh, or you can buy organic chamomile directly from us

2. Dandelion

Dandelions are another surprisingly bitter herb considered to be beneficial weeds in more ways than one. It’s easy to think of a dandelion in your garden as a nuisance, but they will nourish your shallow-rooting plants with their nutrient-collecting taproots, and add layers to your culinary toolbox if you harvest them appropriately.

While most people just see them as a bother, dandelions are actually edible, nutritious, and have several culinary uses and have been a part of Chinese and Korean cuisines for centuries.

Use Dandelions to “Weed” Out Bad Flavors

As far as flavors go, dandelion greens bring an earthy, nutty and pleasingly bitter taste to the table and are best paired with savory, salty, acidic and full-bodied flavors. Dandelion, like other wild greens, can be prepared in a variety of ways, from being sautéed in oil to being eaten raw in salads and sandwiches.

You can eat every part of the dandelion—roots, stems, leaves and flowers. Some things you can do with dandelions are:

  • Make dandelion root coffee, herbal tea, or homemade wine.
  • Sautee dandelion stalks and put them in quesadillas.
  • Add color to any salad.
  • Fry the flowers in a batter and make dandelion fritters.

Where Can I Get Dandelions?

Anywhere! Dandelions are perhaps the most prolific weed that American yards have to offer. Be warned, though: dandelions in parks or near roads might have been sprayed with toxic weed killer. Alternatively, you can buy organic dandelion root straight from us

3. Peppermint

Peppermint is a mix between watermint and spearmint. Its medical benefits have long been asserted, but those effects remain scientifically unproven. Some of the benefits include: alertness enhancement, antibacterial, pain relief, itch relief, and irritable bowel syndrome relief.

Freshen Up Your Palate with Mint

Though peppermint is most commonly known for giving candy canes and other sweets their minty flavor, it’s used most often in tea. Peppermint is high in menthol, which helps to give the cooling sensation you feel when it hits your tastebuds. How you can add peppermint to your culinary adventures:

  • Add it to your favorite dessert for a boost of coolness.
  • Muddle into your favorite mojito recipe (blueberry or mango will give it a new layer of sweet).
  • Infuse your black tea with it to wake up in the morning.

Using Spearmint vs. Peppermint

If you’re making something sweet and need to add mint, you should add peppermint. If you’re making something savory and need to add mint, you should add spearmint.

Where Can I Find Peppermint?

Since peppermint was bred artificially for the first time in 1750 near London, it does not grow naturally in the wild. However, they’re fairly simple to plant grow on your own. Be warned, though: mint is an aggressive plant, and it can overtake the rest of your garden if not kept in check. If you’re not into gardening, you can buy Oregon-grown peppermint straight from us.

4. Wormwood

Wormwood is called mugwort in the UK, but it also has a lot of other names:

  • Felon herb
  • Old Uncle Henry
  • Sailor’s tobacco
  • Naughty man
  • Old Man

Wormwood is a tall, spirally plant that grows naturally in Northern Africa, Canada, and the United States. Unlike the other herbs discussed here, it is generally used more in the production of alcohol than in cooking.

Wormwood is a key ingredient in absinthe, a controversial drink that was claimed to induce madness and violence by those who opposed it. Though these claims are untrue, absinthe was banned for a hundred years.

Culinary Uses of Wormwood

Wormwood is too bitter to use in most cooking. When used as an ingredient, it is typically to give a strong, bitter flavor to meat and fish. You can also use both the leaves and the roots to make tea.

Wormwood sees much more use in beverages, however. It is a primary ingredient in bitters, which appear in many popular cocktails like the Old Fashioned.

Where Can I Get Wormwood?

Wormwood is a hardy plant that’s easy to grow at home. It’s easier to overwater wormwood than underwater it, as wormwood prefers dry soil. Alternatively, we sell wormwood for your convenience.

Don’t Be Bitter: Head Down To Colonel De’s

No flavor is meant to stand alone, but they were instead meant to stand out.  Now that we’ve explored the many sides of bitter herbs, we hope that you’ll give bitter another chance and add it to your culinary toolbox.

The best flavors are always complimented or opposed by the spices and herbs you blend together. At Colonel De, we are all about the flavor of adventure; even if you’re not interested in bringing bitter to the table, you’ll surely find another dimension of flavor by browsing through our online store or visiting us in person. Spice up your cooking today!

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