Bitter taste in the mouth according to Chinese Medicine

TCM Education Center > Symptoms list > Bitter taste in the mouth

Bitter taste in the mouth can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like bitter taste in the mouth here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here bitter taste in the mouth is often associated with dizziness, irritability and heavy periods in the pattern “Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause bitter taste in the mouth.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of bitter taste in the mouth we’ve identified four herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat bitter taste in the mouth.

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause bitter taste in the mouth

In Chinese Medicine bitter taste in the mouth is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Red points on the sides

This pattern develops from Liver Qi Stagnation, which creates excessive amount of Heat and then turn into Liver Fire. The Heat is more intense here.

In addition to bitter taste in the mouth, other symptoms associated with Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire include dizziness, irritability and heavy periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is often treated with Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Mudan Peony Bark - Mu Dan Pi - as a key herb). Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that clear liver-heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi".

Read more about Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire here

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Yao San, a formula used for Qi and Blood Stagnation

Qi and Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red, Red sides

In addition to bitter taste in the mouth, other symptoms associated with Qi and Blood Stagnation include dizziness, irritability and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi and Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi and Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Qi and Blood Stagnation here

Phellodendron Bark (Huang Bo) is the king ingredient for Er Miao San, a formula used for Damp-Heat

Damp-Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua)

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

In addition to bitter taste in the mouth, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat include dizziness, fatigue and restlessness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Damp-Heat is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Intermenstrual Bleeding or Abnormal Vaginal Discharge.

Damp-Heat is often treated with Er Miao San, a herbal formula made of 2 herbs (including Phellodendron Bark - Huang Bo - as a key herb). Er Miao San belongs to the category of "formulas that expel dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Expels Dampness from the Lower Burner".

Read more about Damp-Heat here

Four herbal formulas that might help with bitter taste in the mouth

Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Pacifies the Liver. Removes Stagnation. Drains Fire. Unblocks the Meridians.

Why might Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire' of which bitter taste in the mouth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang here

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Source date: Ming dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver and Spleen Qi Stagnation. Tonifies Spleen. Clears Deficient Heat. Nourishes the blood.

Why might Jia Wei Xiao Yao San help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi and Blood Stagnation' of which bitter taste in the mouth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi and Blood Stagnation can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Jia Wei Xiao Yao San here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat' of which bitter taste in the mouth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Damp-Heat can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Xiao Yao San here

Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San

Source date: 2002 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi.

Why might Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire' of which bitter taste in the mouth is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat bitter taste in the mouth

Why might White Peony Root (Bai Shao) help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because White Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bitter taste in the mouth as a symptom, like Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang or Jia Wei Xiao Yao San for instance.

White Peony Roots is a Neutral herb that tastes Bitter and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood and preserves the Yin. Nourishes the Liver and assists in the smooth flow of Qi. Regulates the meridians and eases the pain.

Read more about White Peony Roots here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bitter taste in the mouth as a symptom, like Jia Wei Xiao Yao San or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bitter taste in the mouth as a symptom, like Xuan Yu Tong Jing Tang or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bitter taste in the mouth as a symptom, like Jia Wei Xiao Yao San or Xiao Yao San for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Mudan Peony Bark (Mu Dan Pi) help with bitter taste in the mouth?

Because Mudan Peony Bark is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat bitter taste in the mouth as a symptom, like Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San or Qing Re Tiao Xue Tang for instance.

Mudan Peony Bark is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Cools the Blood, activates Blood circulation and resolves Blood stasis.

Read more about Mudan Peony Bark here