Beneficial Bitters

ⒸMaw-Maw Kelli

Here…says my friend, you gotta taste this….oh it is soooooo bitter….’  Why do we feel the need to make other people suffer with us, I think to myself as I bite into the root she passed to me……. Everyone knows the face too… the face you make when you taste something really bitter.  Bitters are herbs (roots, or other substances like mushrooms) that have a bitter taste.  They not only act on the taste buds, but they also act on the gut to release digestive hormones leading to the stimulation of gastric juices. They play a huge role in preventive medicine. They can stimulate appetite, they can help clear the liver if it is stagnant (which can lead to emotional issues like depression, or anxiety) they can help with general gut repair, and they can even help regulate blood sugar.*   There are really so many places you can use bitters that so many herbalist use the bitters to help many different issues.
I often combine bitters with carminatives (this is what I like to do personally). Carminatives are rich in aromatic volatile oils and they also work on the digestive system. They can sooth the gut wall and can help remove gas from the digestive track. I like to work with warming carminative to make a balanced bitter formula for people with a cool or cold constitution.
Many traditions use bitters.  Have you been in the health food store and saw Swedish Bitters on the shelf? Or maybe a restaurant someone ask for bitters as an aperitif? In American culture we don’t use them as much as we should. Maybe because we have such a sweet tooth that the bitter taste buds don’t get the workout they need.  Even with coffee (a great morning bitter) we often put sugar, cream and other flavorings in it because we don’t like to taste the bitter constituent.  My personal medical doctor who is VERY holistic even told me years ago, ‘If you are gonna drink coffee drink it black.’  It took some getting used to, but now I only take my coffee black.  I like using bitters pre-meal (about 10 or 15 minutes before I eat) but you can also take them afterwards (especially if you forgot and maybe ate a little more than you should have).
You have heard the says, ‘you are what you eat…’ I heard one of my teachers David Winston say this, ‘We are what we assimilate.’ You can have an awesome diet, but if you are not assimilating your food you are not getting the proper nourishment.
Now before you say, oh that’s easy I will go find a bitter herb in a health food store and take it by capsule…. Well hang on a second.  The bitter principle starts in the mouth with the taste buds, so…. No cheating here.  Allow yourself to be able to taste the bitter principle. 😀
Causes of Low Gastric Juices
Stress is (especially a state of chronic stress and who doesn’t have that in today’s time) shuts down gastric juices.  When the body goes into defense mode (fight, flight or freeze) digestion get compromised. No digestion no assimilation of nutrients, that simple.
Medication.  Between acid reducers and other medications gastric juices can be suppressed.  I am not saying not to take medication if you need it but offering an explanation if you have low gastric juices, and thus are not getting proper digestion. If you have heartburn work with a local herbalist to help keep the fire going and help it to go down where it belongs and not ‘up.’
Cold drinks (and cold foods). You are sitting at the restaurant and you try to do the healthy thing and ask for water.  Ice cold water dumped on the ‘digestive fire’ that needs to be in the gut so you can process your food and assimilate nutrients,  can hamper digestion. If you eat cold salads (and you should eat salad) put oil and vinegar to help with the breakdown and ask for your water room temperature. 😀
Most of us fit at least  one of the above issues (some of us have all of them), this is something I want you to consider, if you do fit any of these you most likely needbitters!
Here are just a few bitters and carminatives that you can use to make a yummy bitters formula.  Please practice ethical wildcrafting at all times.  If you are not familiar with this term or do not think your fully grasp the principle please ask or find a local herbalist who is familiar to teach you
Bitter Herbs:
Yarrow, Dandelion, Yellow Dock, Chicory, Boneset, Calamus, Cacao
I prefer to use herbs I can grow or can forage for so I tend to list the ones I use most, which is above, though there are so many others. (Ok I admit I buy cacao).
Carminative herbs
Ginger, Cinnamon, Chamomile, Peppermint, Motherwort
Here is one of my favorite bitters recipes that I developed and it’s an easy one if you let your weeds grow like I do.  (I am in VA anyway, so this is what I have)
Please note some people may have contraindications to bitters.

Maw-Maw Kelli’s General Digestive Bitters Recipe

Dandelion Roots, Leaf and Flower (I do not use stems, some people have allergies to the milky part of the stem)
Ginger Root
Yellow Dock Root (Rumex Crispus)
Peel of 1 Lemon
Pinch of Cloves
Small cinnamon stick (optional)
32 ounce mason jar, with lid and label
Gather several nice size dandelion plants (roots and all).  Wash and remove stems.  I use all the roots and a handful of leaves and all the flowers.  I use about 3 parts root in this remedy (good sized roots)
About ¼ or ½  inch of a Ginger root.  
About  ½  inch  or so of Yellow Dock Root (this is optional if you don’t have it, but I like it personally). I had a large root so that may vary depending the size.
I peel 1 lemon
One pinch (heavy pinch) of clove.
I added a small cinnamon stick to mine, but this is your choice as well.
Please note I do not measure, I make most of herbal remedies like I cook, until it seems right (unless of course I am using a strong herbs or roots that require it-then I DO measure and am very careful-use common sense please and never use a herb you are not familiar with or is out of your expertise without seeking help from another herbalist)
Everything should be dry, but not dried out (in other words not wet)
I grate the roots and chop the leaves and flower and add to a mason jar (about ¾ full of material). 
Fill the jar to cover all the material with brandy.  I then add a bit of honey, but you could fill the jar full of brandy if you like.  I like honey in mine.  J
I let steep for about 4-6 weeks, (until the taste is where I like it)
Strain off the material and label your jar.  Shake well and take a little before meals.
If you do not want to make your own bitters, check out Urban Moonshine bitters they are AWESOME!  I know I have tried them at conferences.  😀
For further Research or to buy bitters
*The information contained here is for learning purposes and is not to diagnose, cure or treat any disease.