Bitters are essential for good digestion and health, yet they are lacking in our modern diets. Cultures around the world have long utilized bitters and understood their necessity for health and digestion. Many believe that a lack of bitters is one of the main causes for the health and digestive issues present in our society, and herbalists including James Green and jim mcdonald talk about “bitter deficiency syndrome” and promote the benefits of bitters.
Bitters stimulate digestion, metabolism, relieve constipation, increase appetite, help with feelings of sluggishness, help normalize blood sugar, and they help resolve many issues including acid reflex, ulcers, and leaky gut syndrome, and do so much more. In jim mcdonald’s words: “So, to summarize, we see that bitters possess a corrective influence over sluggish metabolism, deficient stomach acid, and bile secretion resulting in difficulty digesting fats, oils, and proteins, nutrient deficiency, loss of appetite, cravings, addictions, ungroundedness, anxiety, depression, and other conditions that are rampant in our culture. That these conditions are among the most frequently medicated, using both over the counter and prescription drugs, underscores the merit of using bitter plants.” For more information, see this incredible article from jim mcdonald: Blessed Bitters
A Bitters Recipe:
There are many different recipes for bitters available. Bitters can be made with a singular herb, or with a medley. Below is a recipe that I have made, but please feel free to adapt and change it:
- 2 parts organic dried Dandelion Root (not roasted)
- 1 part organic dried Artichoke leaf
- 1 part organic dried Gentian root
- 1 part organic dried Burdock root
- 1 part dried Quassia bark
- 1 part organic fresh Orange zest
- 1/2 part organic dried Angelica root
- 1/4 part organic dried Ginger root
- 1/4 part organic dried Fennel seeds (I used Fennel seeds harvested from my garden)
- 1/4 part organic dried Cardamom pods, lightly crushed in a mortar and pestle
- 1/4 part organic dried Coriander seeds
- 1/8 part organic dried Caraway seeds
Place all of the botanicals in a glass jar, and cover with enough alcohol so that the ingredients are submerged by 1-2″ of liquid. A menstruum containing 50% alcohol would be best, but 80 proof vodka (40% alcohol) is fine as well. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, shake well, and store in a cool, dry, and dark cabinet. Make sure to shake the jar daily, or as often as you can remember, and make sure to add more alcohol if needed so that the herbs are always completely submerged. Mold and bacteria can be introduced into your product if the herb is exposed to air.
Allow the bitters to extract for 4-8 weeks. Then, strain all of the herbs out using cheesecloth (the spent herbs can go in your compost), and bottle the liquid into amber glass bottles. Make sure to label the bottles! Mystery bottles are so frustrating. 🙂
Using Bitters: Take bitters before beginning a meal, just a few drops are needed to stimulate the digestive system. You can also take 15-30 drops to help relieve indigestion, or if you feel sluggish following a heavy meal. I carry a bottle of bitters in my purse, and take a few drops whenever needed. Sometimes, I use them just because I enjoy how they taste! For best results, use bitters on a regular basis. Bitters can also be used in cocktails. Simply follow any recipe that calls for bitters, and use your homemade bitters instead of a store-bought variety.
I purchased all of my herbs (except the Fennel seeds which came from my garden) from Mountain Rose Herbs
For a great guide on making tinctures, see this article from Mountain Rose Herbs: Guide to Making Tinctures
Learn more about the wonders of Bitters:
- jim mcdonald: Blessed Bitters
- Kiva Rose: Bitters Blogparty
- David Hoffmann: Bitters
- Susan Belsinger: Bitters, Beverages with Moxie
- Tales of a Kitchen Herbwife: Bitters: Herbs which promote release?