Why Ayurveda’s Guide for Spring is bitter sweet?

covid 19 immunity

While science is catching up with evidence for the balance of six tastes, Ayurveda has tested therapeutic effects of the taste over the time of the last 5000 years. However, it’s confirmed by the modern research that Bitter and Sweet taste receptors regulate human upper respiratory immune response (Robert et all (2014)). It is interesting that there is only one receptor for the sweet, sour and salty taste, but there is blooming twenty-five types of taste receptors for the bitter taste! After you read this, I am sure you will stock up your bitter vegetables and spices! 

A comforting and pleasing are sweet and salty tastes and indeed we remember these tastes since the day we were born, by eating mothers milk. These flavours are nourishing in nature and makes us to fall asleep. Bitter taste very often causes a reflex which makes us to stop eating. It is because of many poisons like nicotine activating bitter receptors to cough or spit in order to switch on the self defence mechanism. People who’s bitter receptors are activated are more likely to have good immune response, as oppose to those who’s not. The aim of Ayurvedic Nutrition is to have all taste receptors equally evolved. It is practiced through eating all six flavours with each meal.

A saying that ‘Your food is Your medicine’ comes from Ayurveda and most importance is given to the tastes in the Ayurvedic Diet. Each meal requires to have six tastes, which are bitter, pungent (spicy), sweet, sour, salty and astringent. The dominance of one or the other taste  can have serious effect on health, such as imbalanced mood, immunity and overall health. While the research is concluding on this, bringing balance into the diet can be crucial to strengthen the immunity and become a preventative measure in a long run and for the future.


Particularly in Spring, reducing the choice of sweet and salty tastes and increasing pungent and bitter tastes, will flush the lymphatic system, stimulate immunity, protect the upper and lower bronchial pathways from microbial and viral invaders and stimulate the digestion. A strong digestion is the first required defence mechanism for the body. According to Ayurveda, the Spring is the season of the retention of the Kapha Dosha. After tiring dark, windy and cold Vaata season the increase of the rain, light and warmth increases our feeling of heaviness in the body. This refers in Ayurveda to the quality’s of Guru (heavy) which we recognise physically when we become heavier in the weight as well as in the mood. Excess of Sweet, Sour and Salty tastes in spring will increase our weight, low mood and feeling somewhat heavy, even lazy. It also weakens our immune response, because it increases the moisture in the body. You would think – what’s wrong with hydrating the body by inducing its own mechanism of hydration? Absolutely noting is wrong with it, if the times and dose of the consumption is correct. If we continue with cold and sweet drinks it may further block the digestive and other metabolic pathways by increasing mucus congestion, if we have too much of the lymph and undigested foods. 

Pungent flavour or spicy, is a combination of Ayurvedic qualities (gunas) of Air and Fire. When we eat the spicy food we often feel like heating has been switched on and we either start sweating, tears are running down the cheeks and we hyperventilate through the mouth in order to calm down the burning sensation. Just like the heating in the room makes us to feel hot, internally the body will very quickly dry the excess of the water (the kapha element) and increases the heat and the air qualities in the body. Hence, the pungent flavour aids kindling metabolism and will aid to reduce phlegm, accelerate toxin re-digestion and elimination either through the sweat or via normal digestion pathway. Chillies, garlic, onions and hot spices (black pepper, ginger, cayenne, cardamom) are good examples for drying the excess of mucus and stimulating metabolism. For example, the essential oils of ginger and black pepper are used for clearing mucus and help to alleviate the cold. It is worth mentioning that off-course you need to know your constitution well in order to allow the appropriate threshold of the hot spices.

Bitter flavour consists of a combination of Space and Air element in Ayurveda. It has cooling, light and drying qualities. Bitter taste is attributed to the self-defence mechanism. The bitter taste receptors are located at the back of our tongue and are body’s way of giving us a last chance of defence. It activates our cough, spit and ‘not to swallow’ mechanisms. Other bitter tastes activate the immune system and thus protects us from the infection. The bitter taste stimulate cilia that line the respiratory tract to move faster in order to remove toxins to the throat area, where they can be eliminated by inducing natural reflexes of spit or cough. According to the research, not everyone has this defence mechanism active and the immune response to a bacterial invasion can be sluggish (Robert and Noam (2015) and Nithin et al (2014)), but scientists believe that bitter taste receptors are powerful to induce immune response and may replace antibiotics (Robert and Noam (2015) and Robert et al (2014)). As the respiratory cilia are activated by immune-boosting bitter taste, nasal cells will trigger the release of nitric oxide and therefore kill the bacteria. These powerful bitter tastes can activate the immune response to viral or bacterial invaders within seconds after exposure, but generic immune response can take days or weeks (Robert and Noam (2015) and Nithin et al (2014)). Those of us who have a better response to a bitter taste, have much better immune response (Robert and Noam (2015); Robert et al (2014) and Nithin et al (2014)).

This absolutely necessary bitter taste is found in green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, kale, rocket), courgette, aubergine, spices (e.g. turmeric, fenugreek, dandelion, nettle), tea and certain fruits (grapefruits, olives, bitter melon) and the list goes on. A good practice is to start your meal with a digestion activating savoury and spicy flavours. For example, you can grate the ginger and garlic and make it into paste (1:1), add black pepper, top it with a pinch of salt and sesame seed oil. You can take a ½ – 1 teaspoon of the mix few minutes before the food or top your food with this savoury mix. It is digestive, cleansing, heating and immune-enhancing. Opt in for warm home made foods, especially increase your green vegetable intake and it’s certainly a good time in spring to opt in for barley soups. It is a body supporting practice to cook fruits with spices. For example you can slice the oranges and stew it with Ghee butter and warming spices such as cinnamon, saffron and cardamon. It makes it easy to digest, warms the body and up-lifts the mood. 

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