Bitter tastes a sweet treat for digestion

Natural ingredients promote digestive health

Ray Mueller
Linda Conroy

CUSTER – Get beyond the natural bitter taste of a number of plants which are popularly considered as weeds and find ways to consume them instead for the sake of improving one's digestive and overall health.

That was the message from Waterloo resident and herbalist Linda Conroy to a standing room only crowd at the 2017 Energy Fair. It was one of about 250 presentations during the three days of the 28th annual event.

That “bitter is good for digestion” and many other aspects of human health is the conclusion that Conroy has reached after more than 20 years of studying the topic. With a healthy gut that “talks to the brain,” the results are a great variety of health benefits from the chemical releases which start in the gut, she asserts. “The receptor sites respond.”

“Digestion is a microbiological system of its own,” Conroy points out. “Diversity is super important for digestion.”

“I'm plant focused, not product focused,” Conroy indicates. “There are no quick fix pills. Always ask for an exit plan with pills.”

Dandelion delights

Dandelions are at the top of Conroy's list of beneficial plants. “We need to eat more dandelions,” she says. She's so enthusiastic about them that she breaks into song about them – as she did during her presentation here.

Conroy acknowledges that all parts of the dandelion plant are bitter, which is a trait that is acceptable because it calls attention to plant species which are poisonous. During the early part of their growing season, Conroy suggests eating three leaves of dandelion each day for 30 days, typically as part of a salad or flavored with bacon.

For the remainder of the year, preserve dandelion leaves as part of pesto paste or dry them for inclusion in soups and stews, Conroy advises. Dandelion serves as a precursor for making vitamin A from other foods available, she explains.

Root specialties

The roots of several plants generally viewed as weeds provide a variety of health benefits when consumed, Conroy notes. She starts with the first year growth of burdocks, which draw minerals from deep in the soil and provide health benefits for the blood and liver along with boosting immunity to disease.

Burdock, dandelion, and chickory are among the plants whose roots can be roasted and then brewed to make a coffee, Conroy states. She suggests adding milk to those coffees. The long-standing claims about low-fat diets for controlling weight were misdirected, she observes.

For treating lyme disease, both teasel and the Japanese knotweed are good candidates, Conroy points out. The very invasive garlic mustard also lends itself to human consumption for health benefits, she adds.

Pro-biotic category

Pro-biotics are foods that provide beneficial bacteria for digestion, Conroy notes. They include sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, meso, real pickles, and kimchi. She recommends including small portions of garlic mustard, wild carrots, teasel, and Japanese knotweed when making sauerkraut.

Pre-biotics are another category that provider the diversity that's essential for digestion, Conroy points out. Their ingredient types are inulins (onions, garlic, leek, artichoke, asparagus, wheat), algins (brown algae), and pectin (apple cider vinegar and apple sauce).

To address anxiety and nerve problems, Conroy favors skullcap, milk stage oats heads and stems steeped in water, and nettle. Among the other plant choices that she mentions are rose hips (steeped for up to eight hours and mixed with vinegar) and dried seaweed as a salt substitute to be sprinkled on foods.

Food observations

Conroy cites 75 to 80 percent reductions in the nutrient density found in many popular favorite foods during recent decades as a reason why attention to root and pro-biotic foods is appropriate. As a result, digestion is hindered because of a lack of balance in the acidic makeup of foods, she said.

Another concern that Conroy has is the widespread practice of adding sugar to foods in order to sweeten the bitters and sours. For example, sugar should not be added to chai tea, she says.

“Sour is good for babies,” Conroy indicates.

Although virtually anything can be fermented with the addition of sugar, that's not always a good way to support digestive health and its resulting benefits, she warns.

Conroy realizes that it's virtually impossible to get people to totally change how they eat but she wishes they would cook a lot more. She applies the recommendation about cooking to the preparation of leafy greens in order to release the minerals, which does not happen with steaming.

On another point, Conroy advises avoiding essential oil extracts. From the perspective of digestion, she says they are drugs that kill beneficial bacteria. To cope with stomach gas, Conroy's recommendation is fennel.

For more specifics on dandelions, sauerkraut, edible wild plants, herbs, and related topics, check Conroy's website, send an e-mail to, or call (920) 452-4372.