A little anecdote from my own life may help introduce the astringent taste. In 1962, between undergraduate and graduate school, I spent a wonderful year studying in Japan. One day, my teacher asked me to make a sentence with the word, shibui. I had, in fact, looked up the word in the dictionary, but it meant nothing to me. She therefore suggested I ask my host family for an unripe persimmon. I absolutely insisted tomy hosts that this persimmon be shibui. The result was that my mouth puckered up and remained this way for a full week. It goes without saying that it took me years to try another persimmon, but one experience like this explains the taste for the rest of an incarnation.


herbal tanninsThe astringent taste is perhaps the most difficult to describe. Astringent foods are drying. Not surprisingly, then, their consumption results in an elevation of the air and, to a lesser extent, the earth elements. Such foods are light, cold, and dry and are hence similar to pungent foods except that they are cold where the spicy foods are hot. So, though both act on air, pungent foods are more catabolic whereas astringent ones are slightly anabolic. The dryness of this taste reduces water whereas its coldness reduces fire. The astringent taste is due to the presence of tannins, usually found in the bark of trees.

Astringency, as one may suspect is absorptive. Such foods and herbs have hemostatic (arrest bleeding) and vulnerary (aid healing) properties. They can be used where there is diarrhea or hemorrhaging. Such foods also help to reduce the flow of urine when there is an excessive loss of fluid due to frequent urination or incontinence.

Tannins are chiefly useful in reducing irritability. They are slightly anesthetic and therefore calming, but they also reduce sensitivity. They can be used to help control excessive perspiration and to neutralize putrefaction. Such herbs are thus quite antiseptic. The astringent herbs perhaps best known in the West are sage and St. John's wort, but the most common item in the kitchen with such properties is aged honey (which is both sweet and astringent). Ayurvedic doctors caution against mixing honey with salt and they generally advise against heating honey.

By final word, astringent foods should be avoided where there is cardiac pain, flatulence, hoarseness, constipation, hemorrhoids, debility, impotency, or paralysis.

The exception to this rule is honey which has a slightly drying or astringent taste and is hence not apt to increase weight to the same extent as cane or beet sugar or even maple syrup.


The Astringent Taste
Balancing Energy
Balancing Taste
Air and Fire




Reprinted from The Elements: Constitutional Type and Temperament by Ingrid Naiman
Copyright 1989 and 1998 by Ingrid Naiman
Revised 2004






Sacred Medicine Sanctuary
Copyright by Ingrid Naiman 2004

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