It seems as if so many of us have less robust digestion than we would like. Perhaps due to the “modern” mix of food types, or the high percentage of processed foods we consume, almost everyone would like to digest more easily and completely. Bitters, traditionally, contained a mixture of herbs and spices along with some alcohol, which acted as a preservative and enhancing agent.
As far back as the ancient Egyptians, who appear to have added herbs thought to contain medicinal powers to batches of wine. By the Middle Ages, distilled alcohol was combined with concentrated herbs and tonics. In the east, such as in China and India the use of bitter herbs goes back thousands of years beyond any exact recorded date.
Holiday Feasts Meet “Bitter” Antidote
In a fitting connection to todays US Independence Day celebrations, it was in the America of 1806 that the first “Cocktails” became popular – which was at the time concocted out of “bitters”, spirits, sugar and water.
In the present day it is the digestive benefits of the herbs themselves that have become popular often without alcohol at all, but rather purely as a medicinal digestive aid. Both in Ayurvedic and Chinese herbal medicine, for over 3000 years, the benefits of herbal bitters was recognized and in wide usage.
Simply put, the herbs in digestive bitters aid digestion by stimulating bitter receptors on the tongue, stomach, gallbladder and pancreas. The internal reaction to these compounds is an improved digestive functioning through increased production of digestive juices such as stomach acid, bile and enzymes to breakdown food.
Digestive enzymes are essential to life and are naturally produced in our bodies and digestive system. Nutrients are processed into a state that allows us to absorb all the nutrients. Another role for enzymes is to protect us from pathogens in food.
Rather than adding to this process, for example by introducing additional enzymes, bitters stimulate the natural production that is already occurring in the body. In the case of our modern American diet, so lacking in traditional bitter tastes in general (the exception being the dill pickle in the hamburger, as the old joke goes) introducing these herbs, known for a bitter and yet somehow soothing effect, can actually produce far more natural stimulation of the digestive system than one might otherwise expect.
In a personal anecdote, an associate known to the author has a mild case of Pancreatitis, one variation of which can be a chronic inflammation of the pancreas. The symptoms are an inability to digest due to a lack of enzymes normally produced by a healthly pancreas. The inability to digest can cause severe pain and can reoccur anytime a meal is taken. Needless to say, this is a serious problem for those who suffer from it. Unfortunately, there are no simple treatments available and, short of risky surgical procedures, only pain medications and intravenous feeding in a hospital are available as treatment. There is no cure, and it can be fatal.
Interestingly, in the case of our colleague, the bitters we describe below elicited an immediate, seemingly miraculous, recovery. No pharmaceutical drugs of any kind were involved. The recovery was within 24 hours and there has been no return of symptoms, as long as the bitters are used regularly.
While this seems wild, even far fetched, the secret may lie more in typical “modern” eating habits rather than in any superpowers unknown to mankind (remember bitters have been known and revered for thousands of years). Our friend admitted to a stressful period of time, before his condition first arose, when fast food and generally unhealthy eating habits were the norm for him.
While this is an extreme example, the idea that any of us, for example, after a large and tasty 4th of July BBQ celebration, might find ourselves in need of a boosted digestive performance, is anything but unlikely.
As discussed from the historical synopsis above, most traditional bitters contain alcohol, and while for many, this may be neutral ingredient, our colleague is allergic to anything alcoholic, so he sought out one alternative product that was alcohol free (Cider Vinegar Bitters from Urban Moonshine).
Cider Vinegar Bitters add an additional zing to the herbal mix
While the concept is amazingly simple: bitter flavors stimulate better digestion and are an important part of the spectrum of the human palate, the ingredient combinations can vary greatly. The examples shown below can be used as an example of two, not typical but very effective products.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Burdock Root Extract
- Ginger Root Extract
- Dandelion Root Extract
- Gentian Root Extract
- Artichoke Leaf Extract
Better Bitters (classic)By Herb Pharm
- Orange Peel
- Burdock Root
- Anise Seed
- Artichoke Leaf
- Ginger Rhizome
- Gentian Rhizome with Root
- Organic Cane Alcohol
Usage Tips for Happiness in the Real World
Once this “bitter” remedy is in your “go to” arsenal of healthy antidotes to real world stress and the challenges of overindulgence, the problems you might have been experiencing could soon be a thing of the past. Best taken shortly before meals, Digestive Bitters, can be used to aid in digesting on special occasions, or as a part of an every-day health regime to reduce inflammation and stimulate better nutrient assimilation.
Although the anecdote above related to a particular disease (Pancreatitis), many more common, and less serious, conditions are also often reduced or eliminated through use of bitters, according to Dr. Shannon Sarrasin, ND: heartburn, gas and bloating, constipation, reduction of food sensitivities, possible reduction in sugar craving, less blood sugar irregularities, liver detoxification, and more.
Bitters are not recommended if you suffer from gastritis, stomach ulcers, gallbladder disease or kidney disease. As with any medicine or herbal supplement please consult a doctor or practitioner before using.
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