Sunday, 5 August 2012

Proud to be British today

The UK today if filled with a sense of pride. The Olympics have brought together the nation. The Kingdom is United in a determination to show all that is Great about Britain to the world, and our atheletes, sports people and organisers have made us proud.
The sense of pride in all that is British was clearly seen in the opening ceremony. It did not contain the glitz and glamour of Beijing, it did however, contain a sense of real people doing real things and a sense that people were being who they really are. 'Forging' the Olympic rings from the sweat and grind of the common people - it was a stroke of genius. It contained a confidence that comes through rather than a front that is about 'having to put up a face' to the world - it showed who we really are, a diverse multi-cultural nation, that has a history steeped in culture, and hard work.
While watching the Olympics, there is real sense of unity, everyone in the UK of all colours, races and creeds proud of our athelets who teach us to strive on and 'go for gold'.
Great Britain really is a very special place to be these last few weeks, with huge screens showing the Olympics in all public meeting places, strangers are talking to strangers, coming together, showing all the best of what we have - inspring all who are a part of the Greatness that is Britain today - Inspiring all generations.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Herbal Energetics with Matthew Wood

I went to hear Matthew Wood, one of my favourite herbalists speak yesterday, it was just lovely to be in his company, and he is just as you would imagine him. Absent minded, rambling, and VERY knowledgeable. He spoke about the energetics of herbs, and for me personally, he gave me another perspective which I am going to integrate into my practice, though it will take me a while, and I my practice has been going that way anyway. 

He uses small doses, almost homeopathic, of herbs, whereas I was taught material doses, but to do this, you have to understand the energetics of herbs and people, and be a matchmaker, to put the two together. He went through in great detail 6 tissue states - irritation, relaxation, contraction, depression, atrophy, toxicity and matched their treatment to herbal energetics and their actions such as hot, cold, dry, damp.

 I had been aware of this, and read his  book on herbal energetics, but hearing him made it come alive. In particular, what made sense, was his view of different depths of herbal actions - for example, cold herbs are cold in 1st degree, where they will cool you on a hot summers day eg vinegar, whey, salads. Cold in the second degree, where they will reduce fevers (febrifuges), cold in the 3rd degree where they have a sedative influence on the nervous system eg callendula or cold in the 4th degree where they act as anasthetics, put you to sleep and reduce nerve sensitivity and excitment eg wild lettuce, californian poppy. These can then given to people depending on the depth of 'hotness' they present with.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Patience - A virtue that I need more of

Impatiens: you might know this flower as busy lizzie

 Impatiens is a bach flower remedy, indicated for … well, impatience, this is something that I need a lot of, a project that I was working on today has stalled, and I now realise that I will need more time than I thought.
One of my major life lessons is to keep doing what I need to without expecting quick results, eventually results do show, but wanting them makes them seem further away.
In clinic, I often have to explain to people that they need to take their herbs and remedies, and may not see results for a few weeks. Sometimes there are processes that happen under the surface, and suddenly, things get better, like a tipping point in a scale, not everything is incremental.
What makes me impatient? I usually know where I would like to get to, in my treatments as well as in my personal life, I like to aim for something, have a target, work towards a goal, and it feels like slow torture to wait.
Yoga is teaching me patience, to keep up my practice even though my body does not always want to bend and twist as it should, to sit and wait for things to come to me, rather than having to always keep pushing for results is not in my nature. Taking action towards a goal is 'male' and sitting and waiting is 'female' I guess we need a balance of both, as both are appropriate at different times.
Needless to say, Impatiens is a remedy I use quite a lot of in my mixes, as instant gratification is a sign of the times we are in.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Turmeric honey

Turmeric honey can be use topically on sores and ulcerations, although I would thin with honey or water.  In India, turmeric powder is frequently applied to cuts, and honey also is used in this manner.  You can use it as a soak for skin conditions, though it does colour the skin temporarily.

Tumeric Honey:
9 parts Tumeric powder
½ part dried ginger powder
½ part ground black pepper

Take enough tumeric to fill a jar about 1/3 full. Add the freshly ground pepper and dry ginger and mix well. Then start stirring in a thin local honey (you can heat it over warm water to help thin it.) Stir in until you have a stiff paste. The precise amount varies depending upon weather and honey, but the point is to put in enough to slightly cover the powder while helping the assimilation with the honey. I find that it is not so sweet as to affect blood sugar. Take a heaping teaspoonful once a day, can be added to warm milk (not cows milk though), or to food.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Warming anti-inflammatory tea

This drink is very warming and soothing. The heat of the ginger and black pepper compliment the soothing effect of the tumeric, and the sweetness of the jaggery adds a lovely tone to the whole drink. It feels as though it is a real taste explosion in every mouthful. Spicy, sweet, bitter and pungent all at once. Take it on a cold day to really feel the warmth inside. I use this tea when fasting as curbs my appetite, and really makes me feel as though I have had a meal, and restores my energy when it is flagging.

Anti-inflammatory and warming tea
1 - 2” ginger
pinch black pepper
½ teasp tumeric
lump of jaggery or honey
(add tulsi to this if you have it too)

Boil grated ginger, tumeric and black pepper in 2 mugs water for 5-10 mins, add jaggery or honey to allow it to dissolve., strain and serve. (The photo shows the approximate portions I use for 2 mugs of tea)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Turmeric - Queen of spices

Turmeric has a long history of traditional use in India, it is one ingredient we add to all food. Looking at what it does, it is easy to see why.

Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant, it is also anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, , anti-infective and antibacterial. It reduces cholesterol and is a circulatory tonic, so it is easy to see why I use it often as a part of an arthritis protocol and any situation where inflammation is a part of the picture.

Turmeric is bitter, dry, spicy, and warming. Dried turmeric is more warming and somewhat aromatic than the fresh root, the active ingredient of turmeric is curcumin, the orange pigment. When you mix turmeric with black pepper it can increase its absorption by up to 2000%. The herb itself protects and soothes the mucosa of the GI tract.

It interferes with the ability of cancerous tumors to establish a blood supply. It is nourishing, lowers blood sugar, protects the liver, helps stimulate the bile we need to digest and is carminative, allowing better digestion. It helps with back pain, joint pain, and any inflammatory condition. No wonder it is used in virutally every meal.

According to Ayurveda, turmeric is a blood cleanser that improves liver function, prevents coughs and colds, improves skin tone and is an antiseptic. Research sugggests that it helps with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, and the curcuminoids in turmeric may help fight cystic firosis, colon cancer, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s.

Adding a small amount of this herb to food is unlikely to give you enough turmeric to make a marked difference to your body, a real therapeutic dose would be nearer a heaped teaspoon, try mixing with honey to make it more palateable (see recipe below), or taking capsules, I capsulate the powder which has the added advantage that the turmeric goes straight into the GI tract where it is most often needed to reduce inflammation.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Yoga as a corrective therapy for disease

Today I want to talk about Yoga and how it is used in India as a way of creating balance when an illness or dis-ease is present.
At the Centre where I worked in India, Soukyam,  whatever the patients complaint, there would be many facets to their treatment (all natural), there would be a combination of nutrition, hydrotherapy, fasting, massage, oleation, herbs, but everyone, no matter who, was given a Yoga programme individually tailored to them.
I did not come across one person who did not benefit from their daily yoga practice in a few short days.
In my training, I was taught that Yoga is not just a set of random exercises picked to improve general flexibility. It is far more serious than that. The exercises for each person are picked specifically based around their problems and symptoms. It is given as a prescription as much as herbs and medicines are prescribed.
Energy flow, oxygen, flexibility, improving subtle energy systems (nadis), chakras, breath, mental clarity, and spirituality are all incorporated into a yoga practice, a few simple moves and postures can do so much seems simplistic, but I have seen it and experienced it for myself.
Diabetes patients are gicen pancreas and digestive stimulation exercises. Hypertensive patients are given cooling breathing techniques, people with back problems are given postures that will specifically stretch the area of the back which has become painful, according to the capability of the patient. Yoga supports and underpins all other treatments.
Pranayama - yogic breathing techniques - typically taking 10 minutes or less - are also prescribed for each person - used to stimulate or calm depending on whether they are showin signs of over-stimulation or depression.
The beauty of Yoga is not just that it is free and easy, but also that once someone has been taught and learned, it can be continued easily from home, and will ensure that once health is returned, the person stays healthy.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I never really know why I am doing anything

Its strange isn't it, you think you are doing one thing when you are actually doing another. It has happened many times to me - I am drawn to something because of a reason I can identify with pinpoint precision - I go and do it, and come away with something totally different to what I had expected.
If I can explain further, I came to Kerala to learn more about how Naturopathy is applied in India, evaluate the results, see what it is good for, and integrate this knowledge into my practice - it seemed like purely business reasons. Good practical 'head related' stuff.
In addition to all of the above, I have grasped the real usefulness of Yoga therapy (subject of another blog), that is, the use of yoga in correcting imbalances, as well as a wide range of skills in the application of oils to joint problems, skin problems, sinus and allergy problems.
However, I don't think that is the REAL reason why I was here. Of all the places I have visited, I have special connection to India - and it is this connection that first drew me to come and study the herbal and naturopathic traditions here.
Even putting that to one side, a few days ago I visited the residences of the cooks and cleaners at the centre - they live in government provided housing, a very basic accommodation consisting of two rooms, a kitchen and a bedroom, both very sparsely furnished - they were all clearly delighted to see me - and laid out cake, tea, lemon water and many things, introducing me to their husbands, sons, daughters, mothers and fathers, no king or queen has received such a warm reception - I really felt like royalty.
On leaving today, it struck me that the real reason I came here was to meet these lovely people and have them touch my soul. Connections of the heart know no boundaries, and I feel that the real friends I have made have been in the kitchens at Soukhyam. Here, the busy-ness did not mean that there was no time for a warm smile and a friendly greeting.
To Prasida, Shantim Bundu and Raj - I have learned more from you than could ever be taught in a classroom - bless you and thankyou for looking after me for four weeks - I wanted for nothing - and seeing where you live has made your services seem even more remarkable.
I have learned from you all that the only real lessons is that of the heart and that there is no need for a common language when you speak from the heart.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

A healthcare system encompassing a number of modalities

India has 3 traditional systems of medicine - Ayurveda, Unani and Saddha. Here there are 291,000 regular practitioners of traditional medicine working alongside the 700,000 practitioners of modern medicine.

The uniquness of the medical system in Kerala is that it recognises Ayurvedic, Homeopathic and Modern medicine, not just in name, but the people here are provided with virtually free access to Allopathic, Homeopathic and Ayurvedic doctors by the state. There are state owned hospitals in all three modalities, and they are all recognised equally. The people choose which system of medicine they want.

This is indeed unique and refreshing to see, and is heralded as an example for the rest of the world, that it is possible to have allopathic, homeopathic and herbal doctors working within a healthcare system that puts at its heart the welfare of the population without any ego or commercial interests. I daresay that the commercial interests are here, but the ethos of natural medicine is ingrained in the population, and supported by the government, it was something that was completely new to me when I came here.

Kerala is one of the few states in India that offers free schooling to all children, there are government subsidised housing projects that mean that there are no slums in Kerala and it boasts one of the highest literacy rates in India.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Living in harmony with your environment creates health and strength

Jackfruit straight from the tree is a common treat here
Kerala is indeed a unique place, not only because of its coconut trees, banana trees and diversity of plants and herbs - but because I have seen here a people who are tuned into their environment.
The adaptation that takes place over many generations is clearly seen in virtually anyone you see, they are natural, graceful and exude a confidence that can only come from being perfectly at home in your environment - they belong here, and their bodies know it.
Our body has a code that is brought down from generations of genetic programming that dictates the particular climate, sun intensity, rainfall, temperature that it is most at home in. Its internal sensors determine whether your environment and your body is in tune, any mismatch in the internal and external codes creates stress.
The diet here is high in coconuts and rice, both grow here easily, virtually all the food has coconuts and rice included, the hot weather mean that the skin colour is dark, virtually everyone, young or old, is slim, stands tall and walks straight.
It is only those people who have desk jobs who have started to exhibit the classic signs of aging that we now see in the west so often.
3 generations of one family
Away from the pollution, mass food production, chemical fertilisers and high stress city living, the beautiful people of Kerala have shown me that it is not just possible - but essential to live in tune with my environment.
This does present me with a problem in England, as my body has Indian roots and craves for sunshine in the winter, for heat and vegan foods, so I now need to find ways to adapt my environment and foods to suit my body, it is the least I can do to to put into practice what I have learned here in Kerala.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Meet the team at Soukhyam

Let me introduce you to  some of the doctors at the Naturopathic Centre where I am working for a month in India.

Firstly, Dr Somnya, a very softly spoken and gentle person, but she does not mince her words, however, because of her gentle manner, it does not seem so bad. 'You are quite fleshy' she told me, which means that I am fat, from anyone else, it would have been offensive. She says it as it is. Dr Somnya knows her stuff, she studied Naturopathy for 4 years. In India, Naturopathy is a full time course, covering a full range of skills including Acupuncture,, physiotherapy, massage, diet, Yoga and much more. 
This is Dr Shimji, who set up Soukhyam, Dr Shimji's passion is unmistakable, he is a wonderful advocate for the Naturopathic way, born and brought up in Kerala, his father believed in drugless health, it has been a pleasure to be working alongside him, and to see his obvious talent and his winning bedside manner with the patients, I hope that Soukhyam will continue to grow and flourish, after only being open for 3 months, it is already running close to capacity. There is not even a signboard outside, yet the local people have come to find out about the work that is done here.

Here is the rest of the team of doctors:
Left to right, Dr Indira, Dr Soumnya, Dr Shafeena, (Shaiji and Babika in the background) and Dr Shimji

Next meed Dr Indira, I have not got to know Dr Indira very well, but she is an Ayurvedic doctor and has been preoccupied with other things, but I appreciate the level of her skill, and her obvious knowledge of the Ayurvedic herbs, and very much appreciated being shown around the herbal gardens with a knowledge of Ayurveda.

Dr Shafeena, I do not have an individual photo of, is also a Naturopathic Doctor, and highly skilled, I had a Swedish massage from her when I had backache, and she combined Swedish massage with Accupressure to releive the backache. Shafeena knows her stuff inside out, knowing the therapeutic value of each yoga posture, of the reason behind each therapy and is extremely professional in her commitment to the patients here, I respect her a great deal.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Yoga as a therapy

Today I want to talk about Yoga and how it is used at the Centre. When someone comes to Soukhyam hospital, whatever the complaint, there are many facets to their treatment. Hydrotherapy, nutrition, fasting, massage, physio - but everyone is given a specific programme of yoga. Here, yoga is used as a therapy, it is not just a random set of exercises, picked out of a hat to improve general flexibility. The exercises for each person are chosen specifically based around their abilities and their problems, and symptoms they are presenting.
Diabetes patients are given exercises to energise the pancreas and the digestion, hypertensive patients are given breathing to calm and relax, people with back problems are given specific exercises that will stretch the area of the back that is causing pain. Yoga supports and underpins all other treatments.
Yoga is a therapy for which each patient is given a prescription of exercise to do every day and it is treated as a central part of the treatment.
Pranayama - breathing techniques - are also prescribed for each person, depending on whether they are showing signs of over stimulation (eg hypertension) or depression (eg low thyroid, or low anything) - the opposite pranayama exercises are given - calming breathing exercises for the overstimulated, and stimulating exercises for the depressed organs.
The beauty about yoga is that firstly, it gives the person some power to take positive action to improve their health, and secondly, it is something that people can carry on doing after they leave here.
It is something that I am learning about and seeing in action and looking forward to applying when I get home. 

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Bringing down blood sugar with Naturopathic treatments

Meet Fahad, he is 30 years old, he came to the centre for 6 days. When he arrived, he had diabetes and was on 80 units of insulin a day (40 units 2 times daily), he weighed 111kg, and had sleep apnea. He would seem to drift away while talking to you.
6 days of Naturopathic treatments, diet therapy, yoga therapy, and close monitoring saw him loose 4kg and more impressively, his fasting blood sugar went down from 140 to 88mg% (normal range is 70 - 110 mg%), in addition, he became much more attentive and engaged.
I won't even attempt to describe the range of treatments he had, as he was under the expert care of the team here at all times. His programme of yoga, diet, exercise the herbs that he took, and the monitoring of his blood sugar were all done carefully, and precisely, this is not in any way a case of 'lets just give some healthy foods and see what happens', it is a precisely worked out schedule of treatments that has produced results.
However, I will say that he is not an exception, we get people here all the time with seemingly 'lifelong' chronic diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, gout, arthritis, all the usual suspects of ageing. They are not always reversible fully, as it depends on their severity and many other things, but the important thing is that when positive changes are made, and the body is given the right treatments, it responds appropriately, that is, it starts to recover its balance.
6 days was not at all enough with a case like Fahad, but the important thing was that he was extremely receptive to the information, willing to make the changes required, and gave it his full commitment. He was ready to make the changes, and just needed direction, in just a couple of days, we saw the changes in Fahad.
I wish him well, and hope that he has continued the good work he started here.

Friday, 24 February 2012

How the simplest of things can make a difference

Najma and her Mum
2 people left last night, Najma and her Mum, I was sad to see them go, as they were very friendly and always made sure I was looked after. Najma left with the words 'I will miss you ma'am'.
She entered the hospital 10 days ago extremely tired, exhausted, in fact, very thin, no energy, no appetite, allergic rhinitis, osteoarthritis on the right knee, vertigo, lumbar spondolosis. Her mum came to keep her company, but she also had diabetes and a number of complaints related to the ageing process.
Najma is a primary school teacher, and her mum is an office worker in local government.

During her time here her face took on a new complexion and a different pallor, her mum too, looked healthy and well when she left. Many of her complaints disappeared during the 10 days of yoga, rest, pranayama, juicing, naturopathic diet and treatments. No herbs were used, and they said that they enjoyed the mud baths and sun baths the most. (you cover yourself in mud and sit in the sun).

Just one of many cases we have. We have had quite a few new admissions in the last few days - cases of sciatica, eczema, osteo arthritis, sever spinal compression, and a 80 year old musician with clots in the brain. He said he was determined not to go down the allopathic route, they feel very strongly about that here. His clotting is on his right side, so he cannot grasp properly wth his left hand.
My patient I mentioned in the last blog, Mohammed, is progressing, his blood pressure has been brought down to normal and we are focusing on losing weight.

Monday, 20 February 2012

My first few days in India

In this small backwater in Kerala, a place not even google earth has yet found, I arrived 5 days ago and am staying for one month. It is a small Naturopathic Hospital, one of few in Kerala, there are not many worldwide, but Kerala with its roots in Ayurvedic medicine (Indian Herbal Medicine) has a marvelous health system based on Natural health, seeing an Ayurvedic doctor or a homeopath is virtually free for the population of Kerala (lucky them), they are called Doctor as are allopathic doctors, and are regarded with as much respect.
As it is a Hospital and not just a retreat centre we have cases of diabetes, varicose veins, renal failure, high blood pressure, fibroids,  PCOS, gouty arthritis, and all manner of degenerative diseases. People have come because they want to manage and treat their condition naturally. What they get is the combined attention of Naturopaths, Ayurvedic doctors, and homopaths backed up by a team of assistants, massage therapists and physios. Naturopathic treatment is quite labour intensive, hip baths, spine bath,  cold compresses, herbal pastes, oil packs, hot and cold together, ice pack, herbal bandages are only some of the treatments they provide here, they are only time consuming, but also requires a lot of 'faffing'. The appropriate treatment is however very effective at removing toxins from the body and bringing energy to areas that are 'low', increasing blood flow and therefore elimination and oxygenation or soothing and relaxing and slowing other parts as required.
They are known to help preety much any condition from poor circulation and sore muscles all the way up to depression, arthritis, hormone imbalances, and renal problems.

Doctors do their rounds twice a day, at 9am and 9pm to see how the patients are doing. 

Yesterday, on our rounds, a gentleman who came to the centre with a severe brain hemmorage on his right side, he was paralysed when he came here 7 days ago at the centre tended to by the doctors given Naturopathic, Ayurvedic, herbal and homeopathic medicine packs, made from herbs, and continual care by his wife at his bedside plus the most nutritious foods, I witnessed the first movement of his right hand and right leg. I have to say that it was up there as one of the best things I have experienced. So great was his effort, egged on by Dr Shimji, his wife and all those around his bedside, he was spurred on to make that first move.
I have a feeling that it is going to be a remarkable month.
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Soukhyam Naturopathic Hospital in Bekal
Lunch - I dont think I will starve here!
Breakfast - sometimes cooked, sometimes raw

Food is prepared using a wood fired stove, from fresh local ingredients


Friday, 20 January 2012

A salve for bruises made from the bark of the Elder tree

Elder (Sambucus nigra) has a long and traditional use in herbal medicine, the berries and flowers are well known for their treatment of colds and flu. The bark is not generally used today. If taken internally it is known to cause vomiting so herbalists avoid it.

Today, I was going to pick and use the bark to make an oil and a salve where it is useful for bruises.

Identifying the tree this time of year proved to be a problem to begin with. The leaves, berries and flowers that normally distinguish the elder tree are all gone, and what is left is just the twigs.
Many of the trees are bare, and I learned that identifying trees by their leaves is not enough this time of the year.

However, with some investigation, and some advice from several people in my herb group, I managed to find and identify some elder trees in the area. Now, when I go for a walk, I see them everywhere, their distinguishing feature is the main stem looks withered and aged, whereas the new growth grows vertical, standing tall, and looks fresh.
Young Elder bark

Older withered trunks
Having picked some branches, I then used a penknife to strip the bark from the pithy fleshy inside, it is the bark that I was going to use to make my remedy.
Collected bark of the elder tree
Stripping the bark from the branch
I then put half the bark into olive oil, and steamed it in a saucepan for 2 hours
Back and olive oil
Left to steam for 2 hours
I then sieved the heated bark and replaced with the second half of the bark (this is called double infused)
And left to steam for another 2 hours.
After this time, I sieved it again, and added some beeswax to some of the oil as I wanted to make a salve from some of it, and the beeswax helps to solidify the oil, plus it is a very natural moistening component of the salve.
Beeswax in some of the oil
This I then decanted into bottles:
Ready for when someone gets bruised
The oil kept as a liquid without beeswax added

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Why a cold is not a bad thing

A tickle in my nose signaled the onset of a cold yesterday, and woke up this morining with a full blown cold.
As a Naturopath, I know that the body responds perfectly, and I have been preparing for a detox this weekend, by cutting out wheat and flesh foods (meat, fish, chicken), eating more smoothies, soups and broths, and I made myself a carrot and ginger juice yesterday. As well as making my meals vegetable rich. (A full blown detox is not recommended in the winter, so I include some vegetables, lentils  and starches. This weekend, I will cut out the lentils and get my protein from spirulina, sprouted beans and a metabolic protein food that takes the load off the intestines).
Anyway, back to my cold, I see a cold as a good sign for two reasons, firstly, it is a sign that something is coming out of the body, better out than in, as they say, and secondly, a sign that the body is strong enough to launch an attack against something that it does not like. People whose immune system is compromised often don’t catch a cold for years. It is only when their health starts to improve, a cold appears. Therefore there are some occasions I rejoice when someone tells me they have caught a cold. In other words, it can be a sign of a strong or a weakened immune system. You have to look at the person to decide which one it is.
Anyway, back to MY cold, what I did was to firstly have an Epsom salt bath, to make me sweat, I shut my eyes and braved a tablespoon of Hooch (Apple cider vinegar with garlic, chilli, and horseradish), I made myself a cup of ginger (warming, antiviral, anti-inflammatory) and lemon (antioxidant, bioflavonoids) tea with honey (antimicrobial, antioxidant) plus a mega dose of Vitamin C.
The chill in my body has eased, and I now feel well enough to prepare for my clinic today. 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Bitter Herbs and their action

Bitter herbs have a long history of traditional use for helping the digestion, they not only promote healthy digestion, but work across the whole system releasing, clearing and assimilating our foods. It is not just a taste, but an action. Bitter foods can be simply introduced into the diet by incorporating some leafy green vegetables into meals, today, this is easier than ever before, as you can buy a mixed leaf salad from supermarkets.
Jim McDonald proposes that bitters are a necessary ingredient in the diet to balance the system, and their exclusion is responsible for many of the long term chronic illness we see today, they help us to excrete more digestive juices so that food can be assimilated more easily by the body. In my experience, most of us can benefit from taking bitters every day. 
One action I have found they have on the people I treat, is that they reduce that 'sweet tooth' that is so common. By taking bitter food it seems to balance the requirement for sweets, and I often prescribe them for people who are over run by the desire for sweets.
An easy way to include bitters in the diet, is to include leafy green vegetables in the diet, spinach, watercress and rocket are some of the common bitters. Others include dandelion, burdock, gentian and artichoke.

For a really good and well written article on bitters, see Jim McDonald's article on Bitters,