After the rush of the holidays and indulgent foods, let’s take some time to rest, digest, and zoom in on a category of herbs called Bitters or Digestive Bitters. You may have heard of a few famous brands of bitters that are used as a flavorful addition to cocktails, but before the cocktail, these bitters were marketed for medicinal purposes.
The use of bitters can be traced back 2,000 years when wine was infused with roots, barks, and spices, and used as a digestive aid. Our modern diet is lacking in the bitter flavor, so it’s important to add it back in, whether by taking a tincture of bitters before every meal or incorporating more dandelion greens and arugula to our salads.
Bitters are herbs and foods that literally taste bitter, and they work best when you are able to taste them. Our tongues are loaded with bitter receptors! When these receptors are signaled by the taste of something bitter, the salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and liver are encouraged to produce digestive juices and enzymes. They set the stage for digestion, and adequate digestion is essential in providing the body with what it needs to function well. Bitters can also benefit liver function, help in lowering blood sugar, stimulate appetite, and curb sweet cravings.
Some of the most common plants you’ll find in a bitter formula are Dandelion leaf and root, Gentian root, Angelica root, Yellow Dock root, Artichoke leaf, and Burdock root. Citrus peel is also commonly seen in many bitter blends.
These herbs have varying properties, but they all have one thing in common–they are bitter to taste and stimulate the digestive fire. In many bitters products, you’ll also find familiar spices such as fennel, cardamom, and star anise. These are all warming to offset the cooling nature of the bitter herbs. They are known as carminatives, which can help dispel gas and reduce bloating.
You’ll find various bitters at all Peoples Rx locations. A favorite brand of mine is Urban Moonshine–they have a variety of flavors and a convenient spray that is easy to carry around. They also offer a vinegar extract for those who prefer not to take alcohol.
Another fun way to take bitters is to add them to mocktails! A splash of citrus bitters in sparkling water with some elderberry syrup or Dr. Mitchell’s fruit anthocyanins, and voilà! Delicious!
If you’re looking for a new wellness habit to start, try incorporating bitters into your daily routine. Your digestive tract will thank you!
Laurène Elliott-Deyris is an Herbalist and Wellness Specialist at Peoples. She received her training at The Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine in Austin and is furthering her clinical studies with the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine program out of North Carolina.
**This article is not intended to be medical advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before use.**
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