Now that the holidays are fully behind us, I’m going to take the liberty of suggesting an easily attainable New Year’s resolution for you … bring herbal bitters into your daily routine. It is a simple and affordable way to take care of yourself on one of the most fundamental levels of overall health; your gut microbiome.
It is becoming more and more evident that the microbiome of our guts has a profound effect on the general health of our being; physically, mentally, and (dare I suggest it) spiritually.
I feel confident in promising you that if you bring this outstanding herbal brew into your diet now, you will see an abundance of positive changes in your body, your mind, and your spiritual connection by the start of 2022. I mean you’ll start seeing them pretty quickly. Within a week or two for sure. But there will be an undeniably astounding transformation (and yes, I mean for that to be a pretty lofty claim) after a full year has passed. You just may think it is one of the best things that has ever happened to you!
Bitters are an ever-present part of the typical diet in many other cultures. While here in America they have unfortunately been primarily relegated to a cocktail ingredient.
They first made their way into cocktails as a means of masking their rather unpleasant taste. They were successfully being used as medicinal digestive aids. But folks began to do what they were able to make them more palatable. As humans are inclined to do.
This was a clear mismanagement of this wonderful herbal aid, as the bitter flavor is the very thing that makes them effective! It is the pungency of this remedy that causes the digestive system to activate prior to food ingestion, promoting better digestion.
So, in the case of bitters … a spoonful of sugar does not make the medicine go down! It greatly decrease, possibly even negates, the medicinal properties of the remedy.
HOW DO BITTERS WORK?
The human body has bitter taste receptors all throughout it’s digestive system. Clearly indicating that bitter flavor is needed for digestion, right?!?! These receptors are found in the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, bile duct, small and large intestines, liver, gallbladder, and on the tongue.
The moment that the bitter taste receptors on the tongue, the bodies first gateway of digestion, detect a bitter flavor, all of them are triggered to begin the digestive process. The sooner this process is triggered the more thorough the process of digestion is. The more thorough the process of digestion is, the more nutrients the body is able to absorb from the food it ingests.
Nourishment is the cornerstone of health; both good and bad. It is paramount that we as humans learn to eat to promote good health in our bodies. We cannot continue to lean on the western medical system to fix the ills we create through poor diet, with medication produced in labs. This model is failing us.
We must take responsibility for our own health. And the most basic way to do that, the very first step to take, is to consume food that nourishes our body.
For me, it follows that if I am able to consume something that will increase the benefits of the food I put in my body that only makes good sense. Particularly since, there is more and more evidence surfacing every day that, the meddling humans have done concerning hybridization of many plants, has drastically reduced the nutrient levels they provide for the human body when consumed.
Yes, bitters have a bit of an unpleasant flavor. But the good news is that tastebuds are trained and they seek what they are familiar with. Over time, when taking bitters regularly, they will grow to tolerate (possibly even enjoy) the taste. The brain may still put up a fuss about eating something bitter, simply because it associates unpleasantness with that term. But as the body begins to experience the positive effects of using this herbal remedy, the brain is likely to concede as well.
Additionally, bitters do a bit more than just promote good digestion. They moderate appetite and control blood sugar. They are most effective when taken regularly. Consume just a dropperful of bitters approximately 15 minutes before every meal for best results.
You can, of course, improve your gut health even further by engaging in other activities that promote good digestion. These include; following a fiber rich diet, drinking enough water, eating fermented foods, eliminating sugar, reducing salt, exercising regularly, and reducing stress.
But start with bitters. The improvement you will experience from this step alone will give you the motivational boost to strive for change in other areas. Doing your best to eliminate sugar would be the next thing to tackle. It is in direct opposition to the purpose of bitters. Don’t fight against the positive step you are taking.
EXACTLY WHAT ARE BITTERS?
Bitters are quite simply an alcohol extract made using the bark, roots, and leaves of bitter herbs and spices and/or citrus peels. While other ingredients are often added to the brew for flavor, it is both possible and effective to make a bitters extraction using a single herb, spice, or citrus peel.
Orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime peel is readily available in every grocery store. I have featured them in this post for that very reason. They make it easy for anyone to get their feet wet in the world of bitters. Using them to bring this herbal remedy into your life is a huge step in the right direction concerning digestive health.
If you have remedial herbs/spices readily available to you and would like to take that route instead, I encourage that. There are so many choices available. And the pungency of them is often exponentially more potent than citrus fruit peels.
Among your choices for this option are dandelion leaf/root, oregon grape root, blue vervain, burdock root, calamus root, horehound, mugwort, sarsaparilla, wild cherry bark, and coffee beans.
Combining citrus peel with herbs/spices to create bitters is the ultimate way to go, as the citrus provides a flavor that our tastebuds are more familiar with making the experience a bit more pleasurable.
Once you’ve chosen the bitter element(s) for your brew you can decide which aromatic elements you would like to include to improve its flavor. These elements should not be intrinsically sweet, apart from the possibility of unsweetened dried fruit.
Some of the choices for aromatic elements include cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, cloves, anise star, ginger root, lemongrass, fennel seeds, juniper berry, vanilla bean, hibiscus petals, rosehips, and unsweetened dried fruit.
HOW DO YOU MAKE BITTERS?
Herbal bitters are a breeze to make. Their preparation is very similar to that of a folkloric tincture. However, the brewing time is negligible in comparison. While bitters can carry medicinal properties in addition to those used for digestion, it is not their main purpose. Therefore the brew time for these preparations is just one week, as compared to the 4 to 6 weeks needed to brew a medicinal tincture.
While they cannot be made in an alcoholic beverage without a reasonably high proof, such as wine, there are many options available, including; vodka, rum, whisky, gin, and bourbon. Avoid sweet choices, like brandy.
It is likely easiest to create your dried herb blend right in the jar you plan to use to brew your bitters. Any size jar will work. It simply depends on how much you would like to make. I chose half pint jars for the blends I made for this post, as this is the first time I have created my own recipes. And I wasn’t certain how they were going to turn out. Fortunately, they turned out just as I would like them. Next time I brew a batch using these blends, I will do it in a quart size jar.
I didn’t measure the herbal ingredients for my bitters blends. I rarely do. I suppose that is why I tout the identification term ‘folkloric herbalist’. I simply add ingredients until I hear my Ancestors whisper “Enough”, as they say 😉
You want your jar to be just about 1/3 of the way full of herbs. And you want most of that blend to be made up of the bitter elements in your recipe.
In other words, start by putting the bitter herbs in the jar filling at least two thirds of the way to the 1/3 mark on the jar. Then add other herbs to provide flavor to the blend.
Once your herbal material is in the jar, top it off with the alcohol you have chosen for the blend. Place the lid on the jar and shake it well. Label the jar with both the ingredients and the date.
Leave the brew somewhere in your kitchen where you will see it every day. Preferably not in direct light. Tuck it away in a dim corner if you are able.
Shake it at least once a day. More is better. You just want to prevent the herbs from rising to the top and creating a breeding ground for mold.
After about one week the brew will be ready to use. Strain it out into a fresh, clean jar using a strainer and a cheesecloth. Be sure to squeeze every last drop of alcohol from the brew. There is a whole lot of good medicine soaked into those herbs. You want that in your brew.
Pour it back into your labeled jar, and you are ready to start taking this herbal brew as part of your daily diet. Congratulations! You have just made an incredibly positive life choice. You are on your way to improved digestive health ❤
3 BITTERS RECIPES FOR YOU TO TRY AT HOME
I chose rum to infuse my bitter blends in. It’s a taste that I find palatable. And I feel that it makes it easier for me to consistently take this helpful herbal digestive aid on a daily basis.
My first blend consisted of orange peel, ground coffee beans, whole cloves, anise star, and a cinnamon stick. The orange peel and the ground coffee beans are the bitter elements in this blend so they made up the majority of the mix.
This blend is likely to have an uplifting energetic effect due to the caffeine in the coffee beans. If you are sensitive to caffeine, or prefer not to have it in your diet, it should be avoided.
The cinnamon, cloves, and anise star really shine in this blend, making it very warming and quite palatable. A fabulous choice for the winter months.
My second blend consisted of lemon peel, st. john’s wort, ginger root, and rosehips. The lemon peel is the main bitter element in this blend. I designed this blend to be made with dandelion leaf, which would have been it’s strongest bitter element. But when I went to my cupboard to grab the dandelion leaf, I felt a little like Old Mother Hubbard. The cupboard was bare 😦
I chose to substitute st. john’s wort for the dandelion leaf, partly because it was one of the only other suitable choices I had on hand. St. john’s wort is a bitter herb. Although it is definitely not nearly as bitter as dandelion. Still it made a great choice for me, as I often use it to enhance my mood anyway. A bit like getting two birds with one stone if you know what I mean 😉
The lemon peel really came through in the flavor of this blend. It paired nicely with the rosehips. And the ginger root added just the slightest warming element.
My third and final blend consisted of grapefruit peel, dried cranberries, cardamom pods, and fennel seeds. The grapefruit peel and the dried cranberries are the bitter elements in this blend so they made up the majority of the mix.
The grapefruit peel shines in this blend. It fuses perfectly with the other ingredients. As far as taste is concerned, it is by far my favorite out of the three recipes I created.
Do try at least one of these amazing herbal bitters blends for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
And please … don’t be afraid to experiment with your own bitters creations. The options are endless. And the health benefits immeasurable.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: Excessive exposure to sunlight should be avoided while using saint john’s wort; particularly by fair-skinned people. This herb may decrease the levels of some orally administered medications in the blood.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed health professional. You are solely responsible for researching herbs to determine how you choose to use them. If you decide to make them a part of your health care plan, I take no responsibility for the results of that decision.