By: Salome Hartter, Master Herbalist
What is a digestive bitter?
Digestive bitters are concentrated blends of bitter plants designed to aid our body in digestion. Although digestive bitters have been used medicinally for centuries, they have become increasingly popular in the last number of years as more and more people are experiencing indigestion and poor GI health.
Poor digestion is much more complex than you’d initially think as our immune health is directly related to our digestive health. Actually, it is estimated that over 70% of our immune system is located within the GI tract. Too often our overall health is impaired by poor eating habits and an inability to break down our food into absorbable nutrients. A healthy gut is key to a healthy body.
But where do digestive bitters enter the act?
How do digestive bitters work?
Digestive bitters play the role of stimulating salivation and enhancing digestion. Basically, when bitter is tasted, a toxic response is triggered which excites our GI system. Here’s a brief play-by-play of how digestive bitters work.
When T2R taste receptors detect bitter, a nerve signal shoots to the brain, triggering the vagus nerve to arouse our salivary glands and digestive tract.
The production of hydrochloric acid is stimulated in the stomach. It may sound counterintuitive, but stomach acids are very necessary to help you digest your food well and healthy levels of HCl can actually relieve many of the problems associated with indigestion.
The valves at the beginning and the end of the stomach are encouraged to close, reducing acid reflux.
T2R receptors along our intestines secrete hormones which slow the passage of food, causing us to feel full longer.
T2R receptors stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes from the pancreas as well as the release of bile from the gallbladder to break down fats.
And (lest we doubt the effect diet has on immunity) T2R receptors are also found in our upper airways and lungs (eliciting an immune response) and they line our blood vessels and heart tissue.
What’s not to love?
Here’s the catch – no convenient capsule swallowing. We must taste the bitter flavor in order to rouse these T2R receptors to action. Unfortunately, with our heavily salted, decadently sweet meals, bitter is naturally not a popular flavor.
What are the benefits of digestive bitters?
When we learn to use digestive bitters, we find that our digestion is improved and uncomfortable digestive disorders are relieved. Read on to better acquaint yourself with their qualities.
Research has shown that bitter foods can boost your microbiome as they are often high in prebiotics. Wouldn’t it be nice to learn to incorporate bitter foods into your dinners? Think artichokes, cranberries, or dandelion greens tossed with apple cider vinegar and ginger!
Digestive bitters are adaptogenic, analgesic, carminative, and mildly sedative. They reduce bloating, regulate stomach acid levels, and ease heartburn, cramping, and nausea. They can also help our bodies release and use insulin, which curbs the sugar crave. Another use for digestive bitters is detoxification and liver support. And, as indicated earlier, digestive bitters balance our appetite.
Let’s learn a little more about concentrated digestive bitters.
Which plants are used in digestive bitters?
Following you’ll find a few of the common herbs used to create digestive bitters.
Dandelion root / leaf – Tones the liver and improves digestion
Burdock root – Stimulates stomach acid production and enhances digestion in general
Artichoke leaf – Calms intestinal cramping and tones the liver
Yarrow herb – Reduces inflammation in the mucosal membranes of the GI tract
Bitter Orange peel – Improves digestion
Fennel seed – Carminative (aromatic)
Angelica root – Carminative (aromatic)
Gentian root – Improves secretion of saliva as well as stomach acid and bile; decreases nausea
Yellow Dock root – Increases bile production
Cinnamon bark – Stimulates the production of gastric juices
Peppermint leaf – Relieves nausea and queasiness
Ginger root – Reduces intestinal cramping and nausea
These plants are incorporated in our digestive bitter formulas.
Where can I get Digestive Bitters?
Walnut Creek Botanicals offers a Digestive Bitters Tincture made by Natural Hope Herbals that is ready to use. They also offer a DIY Digestive Bitters Kit which contains the herbs, ingredients and supplies to make your own large batch of digestive bitters!
How do I use digestive bitters?
To aid digestion, place a few drops on your tongue 10-30 minutes before your meal and let it sit a little bit before you swallow it. If you have overeaten and are feeling a little green, take a larger dose (1/2 tsp).
Who shouldn’t use digestive bitters?
Digestive bitters are not recommended if you have gallstones, intestinal obstruction, or an inflamed liver. Also, consult your physician before using digestive bitters during pregnancy.