If I have to choose only two, I’ll go with artichoke and chamomile.
Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) – this wonderful herb is both food and medicine! The bracts from the flower buds are a culinary delight and the leaves are commonly used in herbal medicine as a gentle bitter to support digestion and liver health. A colleague once suggested drinking the artichoke water after steaming the artichokes and now I can’t believe I ever discarded that green artichokey water! Artichoke is a kidney cleanser and both liver protective and regenerative.
Artichoke stimulates the liver and the gallbladder, thus supporting healthy bile flow, which assists with digestion (of fats in particular) and shuttling toxins out of the body. If you experience abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, belching, nausea and difficulty digesting fats, then try adding artichoke to your daily repertoire as a tea or tincture. Urban Moonshine has some great bitter blends that contain artichoke – If you prefer capsules, consider Nature’s Way. If you’re interested in learning more, read the monograph on artichoke in the book “principles and practice of phytotherapy” by Simon Mills and Kerry Bone.
Chamomile flowers (Matricaria recutita) – I love this plant for it’s multitude of actions. It’s the perfect mild bitter for those who struggle with nervous digestive disorders. It’s also excellent for insomnia, anxiety and muscular tension. The World Health Organization (WHO) monograph on chamomile recommends the tea for “digestive ailments such as dyspepsia, epigastric bloating, impaired digestion and flatulence.” Numerous studies have indicated effective use of chamomile for inflammatory conditions of the gastrointestinal tract.
Fun fact: chamomile flowers are used in classical homeopathy for people who complain too much — a sign that the liver could use some support! Chamomile is relaxing without being highly sedating so enjoy it with any meal. It’s a safe herb for children and the tea is an excellent choice as the water is a great solvent for minerals, vitamins and many of the medicinal constituents. Traditional Medicinals makes a high quality chamomile tea. Don’t forget to cover the tea while it steeps — those essential oils are part of the medicine so you want to prevent them from evaporating off. If you’re new to bitters, try Urban Moonshine’s gentle chamomile bitters before or after meals.
It’s best to avoid bitters if you have gallstones or a blocked bile duct.
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