If you drink cocktails, you might be familiar with Angostura bitters or other cocktail bitters, but bitters were actually used as a natural remedy, and prescribed for a variety of ailments by apothecaries, long before they were flavouring anybody’s Old Fashioned. In fact, they’ve been used medicinally since at least the 1700s.
Bitters are actually herbs, barks, fruit, seeds, and flowers, or a concoction made of them, that taste exactly as you might gather from the name, bitter.
Digestive bitters are still used as an aid to digestive health, for curbing sugar cravings, boosting the immune system, and even mood regulation.
Our body has receptors that respond to bitter compounds in our stomach, gut, liver, and pancreas, and the stimulation of these bitter receptors stimulates our gastric juices via the Vagus Nerve, which increases the absorption of nutrients, promotes the natural detoxification of the liver and, thanks to the gut-brain connection helps reduce the physical, mental and emotional symptoms of stress.
Bitters can also change the stomach’s pH, which stimulates the gall bladder to release bile that helps to break down fats, making them especially helpful immediately before or after a fatty meal.
Bitters are not a cure for anything, but they are an excellent support and stimulant to our digestive tracts and immune systems and can provide great relief from heartburn, nausea, cramping, bloating, and gas, which people often take anti-acids for.
The thing is, that taking antacids is actually counterproductive to addressing indigestion. We don’t need less stomach acid when we’re are crampy and burping and farting. We need more stomach acids, in order to break down the foods that are causing all the disruption in the first place.
The best time to take them is directly before meals, but if you forget, after meals is also helpful.
Bitters are very potent, so you only need a few drops to do the trick. You can ingest them directly, by putting a tincture on the tongue or dilute it with another liquid.
Alternately, you can try a bitters spray, or even just eat bitters like dandelion leaves, arugula, mustard greens, dandelion leaves
young violet leaves, tarragon, chicory, borage, sorrel, spinach, beet greens, and yarrow, individually, or blended into a smoothie, or tossed together as an appetizer salad.
Digestive Bitters Recipe
There are many digestive bitters tinctures that you can buy but if you’re
- Fill a clean glass jar 1/3 full of fresh (or 1/2 dried) bitters and aromatic herbs.
- Fill the rest of the jar to the top with vodka.
- Store the bitters in a cool, dry place for 1-6 weeks.
- Shake the jar of bitters daily.
- Strain your mixture using a cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.
- Bottle your bitters in containers or tinctures.
Bitter herbs to choose from:
Most commercial bitter formulas include herbs like dandelion root, artichoke leaf, wormwood, burdock root, gentian root, and angelica root but there are many more bitter herbs to choose from.
Bitter Herbs List
- Black walnut
- Calamus root
- Chicory root
- Cinchona bark
- Devil’s club root
- Gentian root
- Licorice root
- Orange peel
- Oregon grape root
- Orris root
- Quassia bark
- Yellow dock
Aromatics and spices make a really nice addition to bitters.
- Cocoa or coffee beans
- Dried fruits
- Juniper berries
- Milk thistle