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The Practical Herbalist

Herb Flavors, Pungent

Traditional Herbal medicine as well as cooking traditions pay attention to the flavors of foods. It is the flavor that determines how a food or herb will affect how you feel. In Herbal medicine the tradition is to talk of the five flavors. These flavors; salty, pungent, bitter, sweet, and sour each have an effect on the body. The understanding of how these flavors make us feel forms the basis of herbal medicine.

The flavor pungent, is a flavor that not easily defined, and is not a term that is used often in daily conversation. Pungent refers to the strong flavors of spices and some foods like garlic and onions that "wake up" the senses. In Traditional Chinese food therapy, pungent spices are important for opening and dispersing energy. We rarely think of pungent things like spices as food. They are seen as modifiers of food. Spices tend to be used most in dishes that are heavy and rich, such as meats and sauces. Many heavy rich foods feel "lighter" and seem to digest better when there is some spice added to the meal.

This is also the way pungent flavors are used medicinally. They tend to open up at flow of energy in the body. If used gently they move energy in the body. If used strongly pungent herbs disperse energy out of the body. In practical application, a small amount of a pungent herb is added to heavy nourishing herbs to make it easier to get the nourishing herb into the body. This is especially useful when treating the elderly, who often can't digest the rich heavy nourishing herbs that they need. Another use is to use strong herbs in high dose to "open the lungs". They can be helpful in opening clogged nasal passages and helping a person with asthma to breathe.

Used properly based on symptoms, pungent herbs expel excess energy out of the body and can relieve symptoms. This is most commonly use by herbalists when a patient has an acute cold or acute asthma attack. In this type of case the excess nature of the symptoms needs to be cleared out of the body. This type of treatment is followed by rest to allow the patient to recover the strength lost by the dispersing of energy out of the body.

Some people are using these same herbs as a stimulant to speed weight loss. This type of application of the pungent flavor has the most controversy. The overuse of strongly pungent herbs on a long term basis can help decrease weight, however it is very hard on the body. As a result some people have actually died from the overuse of pungent herbs. A better way is to decrease the amount of rich heavy foods and then speed the processing and use of that energy through the use of appropriate spices on the food and exercise which also increases the movement and efficient use of energy in the body. In this way pungent spices are used in the way they were meant to be, as a way to make other foods taste better. Good tasting food enhances life in many ways.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066