Spice up your life with bitters for a better and healthy living

By Rueben Das, Ph.D., Correspondence: gautami@upenn.edu

Few of us at Penn know that the oldest living botanical garden of North America, Bartram’s garden, is not far from the Penn campus. This 45-acre land is a National Historic Landmark. John Bartram (1699-1777), a self-taught botanist, purchased this land from Swedish settlers in 1728 and built his house, nursery, green house and started his business here. He travelled by boat, horseback and even on foot to different parts of the country- up to New England, as far south as Florida, and west to Lake Ontario to identify and collect plants specimen. In 1765, King George III appointed Bartram the “Royal Botanist”. His international plant trade and nursery business continued to thrive even after he passed away under the care of his son William and later granddaughter, Ann Bartram Carr (daughter of John Jr.) To advance the Bartram legacy of discovery, gardening and art, and inspire audiences of all ages to care for the natural world, Bartram’s garden provides year round events and activities like community celebrations and special events, from outdoor movies and concerts to horticulture lessons, birding, artist’s workshop, paddling on the Schuylkill river are some to mention. People come here to have hands-on-activities, outdoor class and family recreation.

Since the past few months Bartram’s garden is organizing Herbalist workshop. The first 2 of the 3 workshops were in late October (“Make your own herbal salves”) and early December (“Make your own bitter cocktails”) where attendees made fire cider and bitter tincture respectively under the guidance of West Philadelphia based clinical herbalist Kelly McCarthy. Kelly’s class is a fun filled activity and the best part is that no prior knowledge about herbal medicine is required to attend it and the bonus is at the end attendees take home a jar of whatever they make in the class. Apart from discussing the medicinal values of various plants and their parts, she also tells relevant and interesting historical stories. In the “Make your own herbal salves” workshop she brought a big jar full of microbial tea for everyone to taste. She took the attendees for a little tour to the garden to show Echinacea or “tooth ache tree” and offered its berries to have a try. The berry immediately increased salivation but the taste was not as worse as one might expect. Berries of this type are good for chemotherapy patients to induce salivation. Her advice is to take a daily teaspoon of turmeric dose that can keep us away from a lot of ailments especially those that involve inflammation. The active compound of turmeric is curcumin. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water-soluble so they can be more easily excreted. When we take a lot of turmeric like an entire rhizome, the liver actively tries to get rid of it. However, taking a pinch of pepper whose active compound is Piperine, suppresses the elimination of curcumin. So it is advisable to take both turmeric and pepper to get the best medicinal effect.

Kelly is especially into bitters as they stimulate digestive secretion, acid reflux, gas and bloating, improve liver function, regulate blood sugar level, bowel movement, relieves from depression and anxiety etc. She also mentioned that most of the plants that can kill us are bitter but a very small dose can act as medicine. According to her taking a little bitter everyday is equivalent in effect to running or walking daily. She brought tinctures of a variety of bitters like Angelica root, burdock, artichoke, mugwort and Postdocs in front Echinacea tree Gentian root for the attendees to taste in the “Make your own bitter cocktails” class. One bitter that Kelly suggests for all ages is chamomile.

A considerable percentage of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) that is characterized by fall/winter major depression with spring/summer remission. It is a prevalent mental health problem. There is another workshop on 22ndJanuary 2017 that will focus on anxiety and depression. In this class Kelly will talk about plants that can alleviate acute and chronic anxiety and depression, and will discuss the most effective method of using them. Herbs that address underlying imbalances that lead to mental health challenges will also be covered. BPC postdocs can have tickets at a discounted rate ($10) for the event. In case you are interested please contact BPP office.

Those who have not attended the previous two workshops, here are some recipes that might be helpful to stay away from illness especially during the winter.

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Correspondence: gautami@upenn.edu

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