Tastes and Energetics, Fall Primer 2022


The way a plant tastes and smells can indicate some of its actions and constituents

Another form of plant communication! We use our whole senses, (organoleptics) to explore and understand the actions of herbs. This includes, eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste and even feelings.

Aromatic-plants that are highly aromatic contain volatile oils, a complex array of terpenes and phenols. Aromatic plants are often carminative, anti-microbial, nervine, antispasmodic (relax smooth muscle), and diffusive. Most plants in the mint family, fir trees, and roses are good examples of aromatic plants.

Pungent- these are plants that have a strong taste and smell. They are often diaphoretic (ginger), and anti-microbial (garlic). Many kitchen spices are pungent.

Bitter –plants that taste bitter have a direct effect on the digestive system due to the presence of alkaloids, perhaps tannin, bitter glycosides, flavonoids, sesquiterpenes Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale),  chamomile (Matricaria spp), Oregon grape root (Mahonia spp.) Bitter plants must be tasted to be effective.

Sweet- herbs are not necessarily sweet tasting but their underlying actions are demulcent- nutritive, soothing, and supportive. Herbs that contain polysaccharides, a type of carbohydrate are considered sweet. Milky oats (Avena sativa), marshmallow root (Althea officinalis , Malva neglecta), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) are good examples.

Salty – these are herbs that signal the presence of mineral content and can act as electrolytes, helping to regulate fluid in the body and can also be nutritive. Nettles (Urtica dioica), yellow dock (Rumex crispus), chickweed (Stellaria media) are salty herbs.

Sour-these plant are almost always cooling, they can excite moisture (saliva). Something that is tart can be sour and astringent. Sour herbs indicate the presence of Vitamin C , acids (oxalic), polyphenols, antioxidants. Hawthorn berry (Crataegus spp.), Rosehips (Rosa spp.) are good examples.

Unami-indicates the presence of protein such as the taste experienced with mushrooms, meat or soy. Nettles are rich in protein too!



Sensations that plants arouse in the body- the feeling it can elicit or how the body responds. Just to add to the confusion, I mean, understanding… keep in mind these are not polarities.  An herb is rarely either/or something 🙂

The plant, how it is prepared, the time and circumstances of the harvest, and the part of plant can impact the energetics AS WELL as how the herb interacts with each individual person!

For example, some people find peppermint to be “cooling” and some people find it to be “warming”. Think about how you experience peppermint. Now, does that change if you drink peppermint as a hot tea or a cool tea?

This will give you a general idea of what we mean by “energetics”:

  • Temperature
    • Warming herbs can increase circulation and evoke a sensation of warmth without actually raising the body’s temperature. Diaphoretic herbs (herbs that make you sweat) are warming. Sweet herbs, pungent herbs, and many aromatic herbs are warming.
    • Cooling herbs can reduce inflammation and reduce nervous excitation (sour, bitter, or even salty herbs may be cooling
  • Moisture
    • Moistening mucilaginous and polysaccharide rich herbs are demulcent (internally) or emollient (external) and can be cool (mallows) or warm (cinnamon)
    • Drying-diuretics, astringents, nettle, fireweed can be both, depending on the part of the plant used!)
  • Relaxing and/or stimulating
    • A relaxing quality is one that relieves tension by dilating blood vessels, soothing/calming the tissues (or nerves).
    • A stimulating herb is one that increases energy, heightens perception,  enhances function of an organ or system, promotes or strengthens flow.
    • A nervine can be both relaxing and stimulating-like how a brisk walk can both stimulate and relax a person.
  • Diffusive qualities that increase or direct circulation and moves energy through the body. Aromatic or pungent herbs and circulatory stimulants have this quality. Cayenne or ginger can be diffusive
  • Tonifying (astringent) herbs firm and tone the tissues/organs and  can help to retain moisture by decreasing permeability of the tissues. Astringent herbs evoke the sensation of eating a green banana or tannin-rich red wine. They constrict the tissues by binding with proteins.