Bitterness is not a taste sensation that most people today go searching for, but in centuries past it was more readily recognized as an important aspect of the well-rounded palate. The ancients also used bitter herbs to enhance appetites and improve digestion. Commercial bitters formulas are still available in health-food stores for that purpose, but it’s easy enough to make your own.
Bitters are made of medicinal, bitter roots, barks or leaves. When the strong, acrid taste of a bitter herb hits taste buds, the brain signals the salivary glands to produce more saliva and the stomach to release more acid to help break down food. Bitters also stimulate the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and the liver to increase the flow of bile. Getting these juices flowing makes us feel hungry and, at the same time, better able to digest our food.
In addition, a bitter tonic can relieve bloating or gas after eating a meal high in protein or fat. Because stomach acid production tends to decrease as we age, bitters can be helpful for elderly people with sluggish digestion or people with sedentary habits. They also may ¬alleviate the poor digestion that can ¬accompany some diseases.
The most important of the bitter herbs is gentian root, which is the basis of the bitters sold in grocery stores and used to flavor mixed drinks. Others include goldenseal rhizome, mugwort and wormwood leaves, bitter orange peel and lemon peel, angelica root, bitter melon, dandelion, blessed thistle, chicory, ginger, centaury leaf, cascara sagrada, artichoke leaf, and devil’s-claw.
To make this age-old remedy, tincture the fresh or dried herbs of your choice with 100-proof vodka. Store the solution in a dark amber or cobalt bottle, use dropper bottles to make dosing easier. You can simply add drops directly to your tongue. Bitters can also be added to soda water or cocktails. To improve digestion, take about a teaspoon before or after dinner.
Dandelion Bitters Recipe
• 2 parts dandelion root
• 1 part fennel seed
• 1⁄2 part ginger root
• 1⁄2 part orange peel
• 100-proof vodka
1. If tincturing fresh herbs, first clean them, then finely chop or grind them. Fill 1⁄2 of a clean Mason jar with the mixture. If tincturing dried herbs, only fill 1⁄3 of the jar, as dried roots will expand.
2. Cover herbs with 100-proof vodka, filling to the very top of the jar. Be sure your herb mixture is completely covered.
3. Allow mixture to extract for 6 to 8 weeks, shaking often. Strain herbs with cheesecloth and squeeze any remaining liquid back into the extract. Bottle liquid in amber dropper bottles and label with the name, date and parts used.
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The Refreshing Point
Herbal Bitters for your Health – Age Old Remedy to Improve Digestion, Support Liver Function & Boost Metabolism