Oh the sweet nectar of a bitter. Bitter herbs are unique in the plant kingdom as they are used mainly for their taste. The more bitter the stronger the action. Bitter taste induces the flow of juices in the mouth to start the digestive process. Just think of something bitter, your mouth is already starting to water. Bitters increases bile flow from the liver to the gallbladder, spurting into the duodenum to break down fats for our body to use. Bitters also increases the flow of pancreatic enzymes, helping balance blood sugar and breakdown proteins.
I have a personal affinity for bitters as they have helped “stave off the knife” a number of times. I’m lucky enough to have a faulty gallbladder. My mother has hers out, my aunt, my grandmother. They all are gallbladder less. I ended up with a gallbladder attack after an essential oils class (another story) when I was 24. I called my mother and said I felt like I was “getting hit by a truck under my right rib cage”. She confirmed I was indeed having my first gallbladder attack.
For the next 2 years I was determined to diminish any need for gallbladder surgery or stone removal. My remedy was to take bitters everyday, with every meal. After 6 years I haven’t had another attack. I keep my bitters around when I need them, but I don’t even come close to taking them everyday. Another benefit of herbs is that they make the body stronger to be less dependent on them. So groovy!
All of this is fine and good, but what about the TERRIBLE taste? No worries darling, this is what cocktails are for. Bitters have been used for centuries in the form of Aperitifs. Aperitifs were normally drunk at the beginning of the meal in fizzy water to aid in digestion and to conjure up those mouth watering juices. European companies knew of all the benefits of digestive bitters so they made products to make any mouth water. Fernet, Campari, Jeggermeister and Angurstora Bitters are widely used in some of the most fabulous cocktails made by desirable mixologists at your local watering hole (pun intended).
As bitter aids in digestion it also kills those nasty critters that can live inside food that’s under cooked or just plain dirty. Yes darling, I’m talking about parasites. Most bitters have antiparasitic action on the gut. So the next time you eat at a taco stand bring your handy dandy bitters along, you may be very disappointed if you don’t.
My FAVORITE bitters of all time:
Artichoke leaf, Cynara scolymus – One of the worlds most bitter bitters. Very good for relieving inflammation of the liver and helping with symptoms of hepatitis C. Artichoke is one of my faves, one of my dear plant allies. I see it cultivated in the smallest gardens in any city I’ve lived in.
Dandelion root, Taraxacum officinale – so good and so readily available! We’ve denied this beautiful herb it’s right to be respected. So many herbicides have this lovely flower on their packaging, claiming it’s a menace. Whenever I spot one I get so excited that, once again, mother earth prevails.
Oregon Grape Root, Mahonia aquifolium – Oregon Grape doesn’t actually have grapes, silly. The berries of this US native look like grapes as they hang down in dark purple clusters. This is a beautiful plant that I have seen all over the US, usually in cultivated areas. It’s odd how some plants have become so well loved by the populace for their beauty but not many know how to use them!
Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium – We cannot forget lovely Artemisia absinthium. So many of you know this as one of the active ingredients of Absinthe. I have used it for many things but mostly for eradicating digestive ailments due to low pro biotic count and inflammation. This herb will kill parasites (hence it’s common name) and will induce many good dreams (why it’s in Absinthe).
Some great products that have a whole bunch of bitters mixed up already for you in a convenient tincture that will fit in your purse or pocket:
Digestive Grape Bitters by Planetary Herbals
Sweetish Bitters by Gaia
Swedish Bitters by Rupam Herbals (she’s a lovely woman too!)
Drink to your (liver) health!