Love Your Liver with These 6 Culinary Medicine Tips


Ready for a dose of sour and bitter flavors? I was born and raised in Italy, where bitterness is a crucial part of every meal. From bitter alkaloids in olive oil to the tangy dandelion greens and radicchio that we toss into a salad, bitter and sour flavors abound.

I grew up cooking with the Mediterranean Diet and learning that these flavors that challenge the palate are essential for liver rejuvenation.

The liver is our body's main recycling station. It re-purposes all our bile and prepares it to break down food and digest fat in the small intestine. Among its many roles, the liver activates digestive enzymes and stores the glycogen necessary for digesting and assimilating carbohydrates.

It is crucial to take care of our livers in order to maintain strong digestion and healthy skin. After a winter of eating foods that are rich and nutrient-dense (like meat, nut butter, and dairy) this season of renewal offers the perfect opportunity to simplify the diet, enjoy more vegetables, and focus on bitter and sour foods that support the liver's natural detoxification process.

Focus on these bitter and sour foods to love your liver and support a gentle cleansing process.

1. Artichokes

Artichokes help with the digestion of fat; balance overly acidic stomach conditions; strengthen vision, bones, and joints with magnesium, calcium and vitamin C. They contain cynarin, a plant compound that supports healthy bile production in the liver.

2. Burdock

A milky root that’s cooling and tonic. It relieves dry skin, strengthens hair follicles, stimulates appetite, and cleanses the liver. Peel it, rinse it, chop it and sauté it as you would a carrot. It is also delicious simmered in soup.

3. Purple/Red Cabbage

Cabbage contains polyphenols, cancer-preventive phytonutrients. It's packed with Vits. A & C to boost immunity and rich in glucosinolates to reduce inflammation and help heal stomach ulcers. Its bitter and sour flavors come forward in the form of sauerkraut, which has the added digestive benefit of being probiotic. Look for sauerkraut with only cabbage, salt, and water as ingredients.

4. Dandelion Root

Dandelion root helps cleanse the liver and digestive system, improves elimination, and relieves gassiness, especially in the spring. Peel and chop 2 Tablespoons of root per pint of soup stock or sauté it with tempeh for an earthy breakfast. It's also excellent as tea. 

5. Dark Leafy Greens

collards and kale are rich in folic acid and calcium. They contain glucosinolates, which support liver detoxification and nourish the gut flora with their prebiotic compounds. They are high in fiber to promote healthy elimination and prevent estrogen excess. All Brassica family plants (including broccoli and cabbage) provide 85% of daily fiber intake in 200 calories (about 5 servings); support the body’s detoxification and anti-inflammatory systems; help protect the health of our stomach lining by preventing bacterial overgrowth of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which causes digestive disturbances such as IBS & colitis.

6. Lemon

This fruit is high in vitamin C to promote liver detoxification and support overall immunity. Its essential oils show promise in keeping cancer cells from proliferating. The hallmark of the sour flavor, lemons are diuretic and encourage the liver to flush accumulated toxins. Try drinking a glass of room temperature water with 2 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice in the morning.


Additional Resources: 
Extra Sources:
Gaby, Alan. Nutritional Medicine. Fritz Perlberg Publishing, 1994.
Wood, Rebecca. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. Penguin Books, 2010.

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