Herbalists always say that everything starts with the gut, meaning that if your digestive system is working optimally, so too will everything else.
This past fall I became obsessed with making bitters. Bitters help stimulate the digestive system to optimize the body’s ability to process food and absorb nutrients. It is amazing to me how much of a difference just a few drops of a balanced bitters formula can make to one’s digestive health.
A perfect example of when bitters are helpful is either before or after a large meal, like Thanksgiving dinner. Bitters are also great to use during the winter months, when our systems are bogged down for a variety of reasons. Often weather precludes us from being as active as we’d like. We also don’t have the same variety of fresh greens and vegetables in our diets, and we’re more inclined to eat heavier stews and foods during the winter months. Bitters help stimulate one’s metabolism, helping with weight loss. They are prized in Ayurvedic medicine as a way to manage a sweet tooth.
Here are some of my favorite bitters:
Gentian Root: Gentian is the premier bitter herb. It can take anywhere from 7-10 years for the root to mature for harvesting. It grows in high altitudes and was used as the chief flavoring for America’s first soft drink, Moxie soda. Its distinctive flavor is not for the faint of heart. It also should be used with caution by anyone with ulcers. It is also an emmenagogue, anti-parasitic and has been used to balance high blood pressure.
Cacao: Think chocolate – raw, pure, unsweetened and minimally processed and you have cacao, the source from which chocolate is derived. Very high in antioxidants and minerals, cacao is a natural bitter that adds a wonderful “finish” to any bitters formula.
Dandelion Root: Dandelion greens are wonderful in spring salads or steamed as a side dish, but why not use the root year round? In addition to using it in liver teas, the root can be added to bitters formulas with great results.
Artichoke: Artichoke stimulates the flow of bile from the liver. It’s been used to stabilize blood sugar and blood pressure, as well as treating nausea, arthritis and liver issues.
There are several other foods and herbs that can be used in bitters formulas, such as the dried peel of citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, or dried lavender and vanilla bean. You can use rose hips, apricots, cherries, cranberries, cloves, cinnamon, mace or nutmeg. The only limit is your imagination. I encourage you to think about making your own bitters formula. Experiment! Your body will thank you!