Digestive Bitters are a popular herbal remedy right now, and for a good reason. Let’s take a closer look at why digestive bitters are important, what they are, some common digestive bitter herbs, a digestive bitters recipe, and, finally, a book review for Healing Herbal Infusions by Colleen Codekas.
Why Digestive Bitters are Important
I recently went to the Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference to learn more about herbs for both myself and as inspiration for new recipes for this website. My brain was about reading to explode with new information by the end of the weekend conference. I’ve got loads of new ideas to share with you over the next year!
One of the classes I took was by Janet Kent on Digestive Bitters. I’ve been hesitant to include digestive bitters in my herbal creations because….well…the name makes it seem very gross. Why would I want something bitter?
Fortunately, the Digestive Bitters class taught me more about bitters and why we NEED them in our diet. Janet Kent explained that in the “olden days”, there were many naturally bitter foods in our diet. Through history, we’ve been transforming previously bitter things into non-bitter tastes and/or just ignoring bitter foods for tasty food options.
Turns out, there’s a reason for bitter tastes in our diet. Bitter tastes helps our digestion and our liver work properly. According to my notes from the class, if your liver isn’t getting bitters, it’s probably not helping you absorb all of the nutrients from your food, even if you are eating healthy(!!).
Here are some of the benefits of digestive bitters:
- People who take bitters before they eat often find that they eat slower and eat less
- Bitters can help regulate blood sugar levels
- It stimulates the appetite
- Helps relieve inflamed gut problems, indigestion, constipation, etc.
- It is good for stress by helping our nervous system properly absorb fats, which are the fuel for our nerves
- Digestive bitters help stimulate metabolism
- Since our liver is connected to our immune systems, digestive bitters can help boost our immune system
- It can help ease PMS symptoms
- Digestive bitters can help us adjust our emotional state and possibly help with depression (due to nerve connection mentioned above)
This was just a brief list of why digestive bitters are important. If you would like to know more about digestive bitters, check out this article from Dr. Mercola.
Obligatory note: I am not a doctor, and I strongly suggest that everyone does careful, fact-checking research on all medical topics for their own health. Be empowered: research for your health and also consider getting the opinions of holistic doctors, etc.
What are Digestive Bitters?
In Healing Herbal Infusions, a book by Colleen Codekas from the super amazing website Grow Forage Cook Ferment, she explains that digestive bitters “are made in the same way as a tincture, but use bitter herbs and a neutral spirit such as vodka as the medium, so that the flavor of the herbs comes through.” (Healing Herbal Infusions, pg. 15).
Digestive bitters need to be bitter on your tongue. This bitter taste is important for stimulating your liver. Thankfully, you only use tiny amounts of digestive bitters at a time, so it’s not a big deal. Your body will get used to the bitter taste of digestive bitters over some time, but if you find that you are struggling with the bitter taste, you can add a touch of honey to take off the edge as a beginner and slowly wean yourself into full-strength digestive bitters.
Digestive bitters are kinda expensive when you buy them online, especially since they come in tiny bottles. However, it’s really REALLY easy to make them yourself.
Here’s a look at the basic ingredients in digestive bitters:
- High-proof alcohol (80 proof or higher): The most popular alcohol used for digestive bitters and other tinctures is vodka, however, use the alcohol that you prefer. I personally enjoy using gin and whiskey as my bases whenever possible.
- Digestive Bitter herbs: see below for a list of digestive bitter herbs you can choose from
Simply place your chosen digestive bitter herbs and alcohol in a glass jar with a lid. The general ratio is: fill your jar 1/3 the way up with dried herbs and then fill to the top with the alcohol. If you use fresh herbs, fill the jar 1/2 way up and then top it off with alcohol.
Shake your jar to mix it well, and place it in a cool, dark place to infuse for 4-6 weeks. Try to shake it daily, if you remember. If you forget a few days, no worries. After 4-6 weeks, strain out the herbs with a fine-mesh sieve.
Now you have a bottle of digestive bitters. Approximately 20 minutes before each meal, place 1-5 drops of your digestive bitters on your tongue. Taste and swallow. I like to use a pretty blue dropper bottle, and save my extra digestive bitters liquid in a glass mason jar in a dark, cool cupboard.
If you want, you can dilute the bitters in water, sparkling water, or maybe even juice, and then it becomes a cute little pre-dinner apertif. However, remember that tasting the bitterness is important, so don’t try to hide the bitter taste too much!
Make sure you store your finished digestive bitters recipe in a cool, dark place. Bitters will keep for several years without loss of quality, if stored properly.
Common Digestive Bitters Herbs
As mentioned above, it’s fairly simple to make your own digestive bitters with just some alcohol and a few bitter herbs. For the best results for your health, consider blending bitter herbs with carminative herbs. Bitter herbs are cooling and drying and carminative herbs are warming herbs, so they balance each other in the best way for both health and taste.
This list of bitter herbs and carminative herbs are good for stimulating your liver and helping with proper digestion:
- Artichoke Leaf
- Dandelion Leaf (read more about the medicinal uses of dandelion)
- Dandelion Root
- Yellow Dock
- Allspice (read more about allspice medicinal uses here)
- Black Pepper (read more black pepper medicinal benefits)
- Caraway (read more about carawy medincal benefits here)
- Cardamom (read more about cardamom here)
- Cinnamon (more about cinnamon’s medicinal benefits here)
- Cloves (read more about clove’s medincal uses)
- Ginger (read more about ginger’s medicinal benefits)
- Turmeric (read more about turmeric here)
Some bitter food items that are also good to add to digestive bitter recipes include: cacao, grapefruit peel, lemon peel, and orange peel. This list is not ALL of the possible bitter and carminative herbs, just some of the most common ones.
Digestive Bitters Recipe
This recipe is from Healing Herbal Infusions by Colleen Codekas, with permission
Dandelion and burdock root are bitter herbs that are often paired together, and they are both excellent for digestion. They help to increase and stimulate digestive enzymes and bile production, which both aids digestion and increases the assimilation of nutrients.
Dandelion & Burdock Root Bitters Recipe
- 2 tbsp (20 g) dried dandelion root
- 2 tbsp (24 g) dried burdock root
- 1 tbsp (8 g) dried sweet orange peel
- 1½ cups (360 ml) vodka or other neutral spirits
- Combine the herbs and spirits in a pint-size (473-ml) jar. Cover the jar with a lid and shake to mix well.
- Put the jar in a cool, dark place to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks. Strain out the herbs using a fine-mesh sieve.
- Drink up to 1 fluid ounce (30 ml) before or after a meal to help aid digestion or to calm an upset stomach.
Digestive Bitters Tips:
**If you want to add a carminative herb to this recipe, fennel seeds and/or ginger root might be good additions.
**I prefer grapefruit to oranges, so I used grapefruit peel instead. Use whichever one you prefer!
**This bitters recipe is pleasantly bitter, and the addition of the orange peel makes it perfect for turning into an aperitif cocktail. Combine it with sparkling water and a splash of orange or grapefruit juice for a lovely drink before a meal.
I am in love with this book! The moment I opened my mail package and saw this beautiful blue book looking at me, I knew I was in for a treat. I immediately paged through it and fell in love with the beautiful, colored photos.
There’s just something about a recipe book (even for herbal remedies) where it’s a requirement for me that it contains beautiful, colored, professional photos (anyone else like this with books?!?). The pictures in Healing Herbal Infusions are so well done that I am inspired more than ever to get in my kitchen and start making batch and batch of herbal infusions. <3
Besides the overwhelmingly beautiful photography, this book is LOADED with amazing herbal remedy recipes. Most of the recipes use 5 or less ingredients, and they are almost all common ingredients that I already own. There is something really empowering about reading about recipes for an ailment and thinking ‘ooh! I already own all of these ingredients!’ and then rushing off to make my own herbal remedy right then and there.
In this book, Colleen Codekas makes sure to include herbal remedy recipes for pretty much every ailment: immunity, aches & pains, common illnesses, digestion, well-being, skin & hair, and even specific recipes for mother & child. Her recipes include tinctures, teas, oils, salves, balms, ointments, and even more than one digestive bitters recipe.
I’ve already pored through the pages of Healing Herbal Infusions multiple times in the short time I’ve owned it. It’s easily one of my favorite books I’ve read on using herbs in the home.
If you’re looking for a new book to inspire you for creating herbal remedies for your household, you will find Healing Herbal Infusions by Colleen Codekas as an excellent addition to your library.
I hope you learned a lot about why digestive bitters are important. Do you take digestive bitters? Do you make them yourself? Tell me about your favorite digestive bitters recipes in the comments below!