Updated: Jun 18
The list of ailments caused by poor digestion seems endless, from hormonal problems and skin issues to anxiety and depression, it’s no surprise that these issues have become more abundant as our society grows further away from plants and whole foods. Jethro Kloss, herbalist and food scientist once said, “The life-giving properties that would aid digestion are removed from the foods we eat or are spoiled by improper cooking and wrong combinations.” That quote, my friends, was from 1939! So, just imagine how necessary improving our digestion is now! This is where digestive bitters come in to play.
What are herbal digestive bitters?
Digestive bitters work on a multitude of levels. The bitter taste jump starts the whole digestive system. There are receptors on our tongues that first taste the bitterness and produce saliva. Saliva has enzymes that break down food so that it is easier to digest. This is just another reason you should’ve listened to your mom when she said to eat slower and not in front of the TV. While this is happening up top, the receptors have already triggered the liver and gall bladder so that the production of bile can get a head start which just eases everything along and out. Bile also helps break down cholesterol and fat—um, hello.
Over time, there have been a variety of herbal digestive bitters on the market. For a period, bitters stopped being used just medicinally and took center stage in the bar industry as an important cocktail ingredient. However, bitters were used long before there was a “market.” It is no coincidence that Dandelions are some of the first herbs to pop up after stuffing our bodies full of toxins and comfort food all winter. Macrobiotic and Ayurvedic cooking also have roots in the incorporation of bitter flavors.
Ok, but do I really need help with digestion?
Although Dandelion and Burdock are the main roots seen as bitters, anything that stimulates the receptors on your tongue to produce more saliva can be considered a bitter, even Chamomile. Most bitters are also directly linked to aiding the liver in its many functions. The importance of the liver never ceases to amaze me and no, I didn’t learn about it in school—shocker.
My favorite herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar writes in Herbal Healing for Women, “Our largest and most metabolically diversified internal organ, the liver performs more functions than any other single organ of the body. It is believed that the word liver derives from an Anglo-Saxon word “to live,” and certainly, no one could live long without one. In traditional Chinese medicine the liver was believed to house the soul and be responsible for the flow of chi, or energy, in the body. The liver is the body’s master detoxifier and cleanses the system, not only of environmental toxins, but of metabolic wastes. It is also a major organ of digestion; every ingested substance must be processed by the liver before being distributed through the body. The health of the entire body is directly related to the well-being of the liver.”
Another beneficiary of digestive bitters is the gut. Thankfully, the research for gut health affecting mental health is only growing. According to research done by Harvard, the gut and brain are connected and send one another signals. When you’re stressed, your digestion is too. When you’re depressed, it can be because you’re experiencing a blockage. When our body is able to release, our minds benefit and the best way to do this is to pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Herbal digestive bitters can help with this regulation.
So, I have been talking a lot about what digestive bitters help push out but haven’t yet mentioned what they help put in. With the opening of our receptors, our taste buds also open and take in all of the many flavors our food has to offer. You can finally be THAT coffee snob that talks to your neighborhood Barista about “notes.” Along the digestive tract, we also open up secret vitamin portals that allow for our food’s minerals and vitamins to actually be absorbed! Not only are we benefiting from our actual food, we have also just inserted a bunch of minerals and vitamins into our system via herbs. It truly is a win-win. Not to mention, herbal bitters jump start your metabolism while kicking sugar cravings in the butt. Yes, heaven is a place on Earth.
I’m sold, but how do I take bitters?
Here’s where most people get scared. Squirting a whole bunch of weird herbs into your mouth doesn’t sound necessarily appetizing. Oh, but it is. The Elemental Collection was made just for that. Each bitter tastes unique and has notes of other sweeter herbs that walk hand in hand with the bitter herbs straight into that intestine. The easiest way of taking digestive bitters is by squirting a whole dropperful into your mouth before eating. Another way of taking digestive bitters is by adding them to sparkling water or my favorite, Topo Chico. Others prefer to completely mask the alcohol flavor with Kombucha. Of course, adding bitters to cocktails and mocktails works just fine too. The important part is that you’re getting your herbs in while having fun!