Very few people like the taste of bitter—which makes sense. Sweet is , bitter is well—bitter. But, here is why you might want to get with the bitter taste and add it to your daily nutritional regimen.
Bitters increase appetite.
Now before you say, “I don’t want to increase my appetite”, know this: bitters stimulate a gastrointestinal hormone substance “gastrin” . Gastrin increases all of the following:(1)
Gastric acid and pepsin secretionsPancreatic digestive secretionsInsulin, glucagon and calcitonin secretionsIntestinal secretionsBruner’s glands secretionsHepatic bile flowHepatic bicarbonate productionIntrinsic factor secretionMuscle tone of lower esophageal sphincterMuscle tone of stomach and small intestineCell division and growth of gastric and duodenal mucosaCell division and growth of the pancreas
If you have low acid secretions, this could be a sign of infection or possibility be an indication of an allergy or autoimmune disease. According to Mills and Bone, “.. studies associated low gastric activity with a number of chronic diseases such as rosacea, gallbladder disease, eczema and asthma” (3)
Bitters help tone tissue.
Bitters have an astringent quality to them, which promotes a tightening or toning aspect. This quality in bitter may help to stave off or help reduce acid reflux or hiatal hernias.
Bitters help with bile flow.
One of the best ways to help the liver in its detoxification process is to promote bile flow. Improving bile flow will help to eliminate the accumulation of toxins in the liver.
Bitters helps with the immune system.
Because bitters work through the hepatic portal, they do help with the immune system. However, very bitter herbs such as andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) and coptis (Coptis chinensis) are highly antimicrobial. (2)
Some bitters are used to reduce inflammation. Herbs such as yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and feverfew (Tanacetum partheniuim) are thought to reduce inflammation. Feverfew is often used prophylactically for migraines. (2)
Some bitters are relaxants.
Herbs such as hops (Humulus lupulus) and valerian root (Valeriana officinalis), and chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are very relaxing to the body. (2)
Okay, now that you have reasons to take bitters, what are some ways to take them? Well that depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to work on your digestion, then it’s best to take them orally as they then can interact with the receptors on the tongue. However, if you’re using them for something else—say to calm the nervous system down, then drinking a tea is fine or taking them in tablet form is okay, too.
Tincture/sprays. A great way to have bitters work quickly for digestion is to spray them on the tongue. The tongue has bitter receptors on it (along with many other receptors) which helps activate the bitter constituents in the herbs. Urban Moonshine makes a nice bitters spray, although you can always make your own.
Making your own spray herbal tincture spray.
Making your own spray is not as easy as purchasing an off-the-shelf product, but the benefit is that you can customize it to what suits you. Herbal tinctures can be purchased on-line or from your local health food store. Here are some reputable companies: Herb Pharm, Mountain Rose, Herbalists & Alchemists, Wise Woman Herbals. You will also need to purchase an empty spray bottle (glass if you can) preferably in a one ounce or two ounce size.
20% gentian root
20% fennel seed or anise seed
20% dandelion root
20% orange or lemon peel
15% angelica archangelica or bitter melon
5% licorice root
The above recipe is not set in stone. If you run cold, use more angelica or bitter melon, or if it’s too bitter add more orange or lemon peel, or licorice root.
Aperitif. I like to add my herbal tincture to sparkling water (a plug for Soda Stream — no more wasted bottles). It’s tasty and effective. Sometimes I use Angostura bitters (TM), which can be found in any liquor store. Although I like the product, I don’t like the fact that they add caramel color to it.
Food. Eating bitter foods such as arugula or bitter greens before a meal will also help stimulate digestion.
Tea. Because bitters are well, bitter, so it’s best to stick with pre-blended teas made for digestion. Some nice tea herbs include chamomile and bitter melon.
Simon Mills, The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine Alan Tillotson, The One Earth Herbal SourcebookMills and Bone, Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy
Jayne Tamburello, MS, CNS, LDN, RH(AHG). Staff writer, editor and lecturer, Jayne is the founder of Invibe Herbal (www.invibeherbal.com), a company dedicated to creating organic tea blends to meet your needs. Jayne is a licensed nutritionist (LDN) and certified nutritionist (CNS) practicing in the states of Delaware and Pennsylvania. She holds an MS in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health and is a registered herbalist (RH) with the American Herbalist Guild (AHG).