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Often times when people think of growing a herb garden they turn to the traditional favorites like Basil, Lavender, and Coriander. However, there are some other often overlooked-but-still-very-great herbs to consider: bitter herbs!
Now, I know what you are thinking. Bitter Herbs? Sounds yucky. Nope. Give me my basil! But actually many of these bitter herbs have been grown for medicinal and culinary purposes for thousands of years. Yes, they are a great option to explore for herb gardens, both indoors and out!
If you’d like to learn more about different bitter herbs to grow indoors and their uses, this list will hopefully help give you some ideas and guide you in the right direction!
What are bitter herbs?
Well, just as you might expect, bitter herbs are plants which are edible, but have a very strong flavor and are not sweet in taste. While bitter herbs may not be on the top of your list as the types of plants you might want to grow and eat, they can actually have many different benefits both medicinally and in culinary uses.
The different plants on our list of bitter herbs can make for a wonderful addition to your indoor herb garden. Most of these herbs listed below can be grown quite easily. Many of these are also hardy enough to plant outdoors depending on your climate and garden zone.
Bitter herbs have a lot of great uses, and most commonly they are used to support healthy digestion and overall mental wellness.
IMPORTANT! Before using any type of herbs for medicinal purposes be sure to first check with your physician or an experienced herbalist, since in some doses they may be toxic or cause unwanted side effects. Pregnant and nursing women, as well as children, should avoid using herbal remedies unless directed to do so under a doctor’s supervision. If you are taking any medications or have a health condition, always consult with a doctor.
Angelica goes by a number of different names, such as wild parsnip, holy ghost, masterwort, and wild celery. It belongs to the Apiaceae family, which includes carrots, celery, and parsley.
At first glance, you may think it is a weed. Angelica grows wild in many northern places, especially in areas which are damp, as it thrives in damp soil conditions.
This herb is often used in folk medicine as a good herb for bringing on menstruation, and is often used for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties as well. It can also be used in a compress for sore joints.
Barberry is a deciduous evergreen shrub that produces fruit and is common in many parts of the world. It is VERY important that one does not confuse Barberry with potentially poisonous plants, as there are many similar looking plants which can be highly toxic.
Barberry is commonly used to help with digestive upset, as well as for detoxifying, and it is also believed to be useful for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, it is important to note that in many places, Barberry can sometimes be an invasive plant, especially if the plant is a carrier for certain types of diseases it is prone to.
Traditionally, the root of the barberry bush is used commonly for a number of different herbal remedies. As always, this is one to use with care and under the supervision of an experienced herbalist or doctor.
Chamomile is a very popular plant used in many sleep remedies and for relaxation. It makes a delicious tea, and you can even use it to lighten your hair!
This bitter herb is often used as a calming and relaxing agent. It can sometimes help with digestion and other health conditions.
A daisy-like plant of the Asteraceae family, the two most common varieties of this plant are German Chamomile and Roman Chamomile. Note, those who are allergic to Ragweed may be sensitive to Chamomile.
Chamomile is an excellent addition to your herb garden, especially because it makes for a wonderful tea! Studies have shown chamomile can also help to promote relaxation and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Most people associate the humble dandelion as a basic lawn weed, and some people will actually go to great lengths in trying to make them not grow!
Needless to say, the dandelion is very easy to grow, and dandelion leaves are entirely edible. You may even recognize them occasionally in different lettuce mixes sold at the grocery store.
Dandelions are used mostly for cooking and in salads, although they have some history of being used medicinally as a diuretic. If you decide to grow these, be sure that you take care to harvest them before they go to seed, or you will likely find your entire lawn in full of them!
Goldenseal is another bitter herb on our list, and it is frequently used for clearing up anything from congestion to helping with poor digestion. It is also believed by some to be effective against infections.
Horehound is a member of the Lamiaceae family, most commonly known as mint. It is a perennial flowering plant, and there are many different types of horehound, one of the most common varieties being the Marrubium vulgare, also known as common horehound or white horehound.
Horehound is sometimes used in tea, but mostly had a role in ancient medicine as a remedy for malaria and fever. It was once a common ingredient in cough medications and cough drops until an FDA ban in 1989. In 2011, this study found that the constituents of this herb can be helpful in conjunction with the treatment of diabetes.
This bitter herb produces lovely purple colored flowers when in bloom. This is another plant that many people commonly mistake as a weed.
Milk Thistle has a variety of different uses. It is mostly used as a supplement for detoxifying and cleansing of the liver. There are also a few claims that it can be beneficial for lowering cholesterol and in use for managing diabetes. Milk thistle has constituents which are anti-inflammatory, so it can also be used in those applications as well.
Sometimes also referred to as the “dream herb”, this bitter herb is used for enhancing psychic abilities and dreaming while sleeping. Most of its uses are spiritual and metaphysical in nature. Its botanical name is Artemisia vulgaris and is a member of the Asteraceae (daisy) family.
As a member of the daisy family, some people may be allergic to this plant. It is also very important that you do not use mugwort while pregnant, as one of the old-time remedies often used it as a means to relax the uterus, which can be very dangerous if expecting.
This herb is commonly used in tea, though it has a history of being smoked as well. It is often used for prophetic and lucid dreaming. As always, use should be under the supervision of an experienced herbalist.
You are probably well aware of peppermint being used to flavor different things, but it can also be used to relax an upset stomach and help with nausea. Peppermint has a number of other uses as a fragrance and flavoring as well. You can also use peppermint to increase your alertness.
Chicory is believed to be one of the true bitter herbs mentioned in the bible. And, as you may guess from the brightly colored flowers, it is a member of the daisy family just like many of the other bitter herbs we have listed here.
Wild chicory has a very bitter taste until the leaves are cooked. Medicinal uses of chicory come from the plant having a high concentration of inulin, a dietary fiber. The plant is often used for supporting digestion and for better vitamin and mineral absorption.
There are many different varieties of chicory, one of the popular ones being Root chicory. Root chicory is commonly used as an additive in various coffee blends, particularly in New Orleans in the United States.
Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium, is also often referred to as absinthe and has a number of different uses.
It is rumored that Van Gogh the famous painter may have been addicted to absinthe which could have played a role in his eventual death.
This variety of wormwood is often used as a flavoring for a number of spirits and alcoholic bitters. It is often used to aid in digestion, for Crohn’s disease, and to stimulate the appetite.
There are a number of different varieties of wormwood. It is closely related to Mugwort as a member of the daisy family, and the name wormwood is sometimes used to describe both. Artemisia annua is a type of wormwood which was common in the treatment of malaria.
White Wormwood, Artemisia herba-alba, is the variety which is commonly accepted as to be the wormwood mentioned multiple times in the bible, and is believed to be a spiritually significant herb. It is often used for its antispasmodic properties.
Yarrow is another flowering perennial plant of the daisy family and has a number of different medicinal uses as a bitter herb. The botanical name is Achillea millefolium. This plant is often cultivated in many gardens, and easily spreads. Many gardeners plant Yarrow as a companion plant because it can help repel harmful insects, while attracting beneficial ones to the garden.
It can be used as a stimulant, antiseptic, astringent, and also as a cold remedy. Historically it was often used to treat wounds and tooth pain.
The Many Benefits of Bitter Herbs
This list of bitter herbs contains just a few examples of the many different herbs you can grow and their uses – there of course are many more we will likely have to discuss in another article!
The benefits of bitter herbs are many. While we may consider many of these as common weeds and a nuisance in the garden, the next time you spot one of these you may just be tempted to use it for your own herbal remedies and cooking.
If you are interested in learning more about the different types of herbs and their medicinal uses, investing in a few books about herbal medicine or taking a local class with a herbalist can be a fascinating experience!
Do you have a favorite bitter herb? Is there one you think we should add to this list? Share your favorite bitter herbs in the comments section below!