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Hello friends! I am SUPER excited to share this recipe with you as part of the new Alchemy of Herbs book from my friend Rosalee de la Forêt. This book has quickly become one of my favorite herb books. If I were going to recommend the perfect book for someone to get started with herbs, this would be it. It’s no wonder that it quickly hit the best-seller list!
I am a huge fan of bitters for aiding in digestion and she granted me permission to share this recipe here on the site. But first, I want to talk about what bitters are and why they are important. Enjoy! 🙂
What Are Bitters & Why Should We Take Them?
Before we dive in, I’d love to tell you a little bit about digestive bitters and why they are so great for health. I’ve personally been using bitters off and on for several years and typically just buy mine, but now I am going to start making my own at home to save a little money.
Digestive bitters are a traditional herbal medicine that traditionally is used to help stimulate your gastric juices, thereby improving your overall digestion.
Historically, humans have eaten a large number of bitter plants, but over the last 100+ years, we have moved away from the bitter flavor (and typically towards more sweet and salty flavors). Bitter flavors are the most off-putting of all the flavors and can be very unpleasant to some people if they are not used to it. If you are encountering a picky eater in your family, it could be that they are reacting to bitter flavors.
This loss of bitterness in our diet has had a direct impact on our digestion and overall health. If you look at the Standard American Diet, it is pretty much devoid of bitter flavor. But, our bodies are actually built for bitter flavor! I love this awesome infographic from Urban Moonshine (shared here with their permission).
(illustration courtesy of Urban Moonshine)
Urban Moonshine (who just happen to be one of my favorite bitter brands) says:
The definition of a bitter is something that tastes bitter in flavor: dandelion, gentian, coffee, dark chocolate and greens are classic bitters. Many traditional cultures around the world believe that it is important to have all 5 flavors within the diet and that each flavor has a specific effect on the body. The flavor of bitter is very much associated with the digestive system. As human beings we evolved eating tons and tons of bitters — bitters greens, bitter roots, bitter barks. The majority of food growing in the wild has an element of bitterness to it. Even the ripest wild blackberry is not purely sweet; it also has a little sour, a little bitter to its flavor profile. Early humans rarely consumed sweets — honey was like food of the gods!
Bitter flavors actually help engage and excite our whole digestive system. It helps alert our body that complex food is being consumed, therefore our body’s focus should be on proper digestion and utilization of these foods. It essentially “turns on” our digestive system and primes it to function optimally.
Many herbalists and alternative health practitioners will add bitters to their client’s diet, either through the form of more bitter whole foods, or through a bitters supplement, like the one below. Seeing that most chronic illness has a root in the gut, it makes sense to focus on healing the gut in order to heal the body (you’ve heard me say that like 7,298,469 times over the last 8 years!). 🙂
Dr. Andrew Weil, says in his Why Bitter is Better article:
“…But there is an appealing logic to consuming bitters for health. Just as sweets cause blood sugar, insulin, and hunger to spike and then dip — often leading, long term, to obesity and Type 2 diabetes — research indicates bitter foods can have the opposite effect, moderating both hunger and blood sugar.”
In his article, Blessed Bitters, Jim McDonald says:
“Bitters stimulate all digestive secretions: saliva, acids, enzymes, hormones, bile, and so forth. Each of these acts as a solvent to break down food for absorption, and the quantity and quality of these foods ensure proper nutrition. Inadequate production of these secretions is common in modern cultures (i.e. cultures lacking bitters in their diet), and the implications of such deficiencies are myriad.”
P.S. This Blessed Bitters article by Jim McDonald is worth downloading and reading. My herbalist pointed me towards it many years ago and it is fantastic. Download the PDF here.
Adding More Bitter Foods to Your Diet
Many people prefer to take a whole foods approach to nutrition and that is fantastic. If you want to skip the bitters supplements for right now, you can help improve your digestion and health by adding more bitter foods into your diet. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Arugula and Kale
- Bitter Melon
- Coffee (if tolerated and high quality)
- Dandelion Greens (one of my faves)
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Dill, Saffron, Turmeric, Ginger,
- Super Dark Chocolate (cacao preferably)
- Lemons and Grapefruits (bonus for consuming the peels!)
- Chicory / Radicchio
In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter how you get bitters into your diet, just get them in. 🙂
What if I Don’t Want to Make My Own?
As with many things herbal related, we can easily make our own concoctions at home, easily and without needing a formal herbalism degree. This recipe is super easy to make and in the long-run can save you a bit of money over purchasing pre-made bitters.
If you are not a DIY-er, I totally understand. There are a couple of great commercial bitters brands that I personally love.
- Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters – My favorite brand and they offer a few different flavors. The bitterness is not overpowering so this is a great one for those just starting out with bitters.
- HerbPharm Digestive Bitters – Expertly formulated and prepared from organic and sustainably grown herbs. Their blend features a great variety of bitter herbs.
- Flora Swedish Bitters – This is an alcohol-free version made by the aqueous extract. It has a great blend of bitter herbs.
How to Make Artichoke & Orange Bitters for Digestion
- 1/4 cup hawthorn berries (20 grams)
- 1/4 cup dandelion root (30 grams)
- 1 tablespoon fennel seed (5 grams)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (3 grams)
- 1/4 cup whole hibiscus (7 grams)
- 1 tablespoon artichoke leaves (1 gram)
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds (5 grams)
- 1 whole organic orange, diced (including the peel and seeds)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey
- 3 cups vodka (approximately)
- Place all the herbs, spices, and orange into a 1-quart jar.
- Add the desired amount of honey.
- Fill the jar with the vodka. Stir well. Cover with a lid. Shake this 1 to 2 times per day.
- Taste this after 1 week. If the flavors have infused to your liking, strain off the herbs, reserving the alcohol. Or leave it to infuse for an additional week.
- Take 1/2 teaspoon or 5 to 10 drops in a small amount of water about 15 minutes before you eat, or whenever you remember.
- This will last indefinitely. Store in a dark bottle or dark location.
Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal
Using herbal remedies doesn’t have to be complicated or costly.
If you’re wondering how to make inexpensive remedies for your family, or how to incorporate more herbs into your everyday life, you need to meet my friend, Rosalee de la Forêt. Rosalee recently (2017) published her new book, Alchemy of Herbs, and it quickly hit the bestseller list.
It has quickly become one of my all-time favorite herb books. If I were going to recommend just one book to someone to get started using herbs, this would be the one.
The best part about this book is that you’ll learn about herbs in a way that’s as simple and inexpensive as cooking dinner. Plus, you will AMAZE your family and friends with delicious recipes that also happen to be safe and effective remedies for a cold or flu, headache, stomachache, stressful day, or sleepless night.