My friend, Summer Bock, a fermentation expert and herbalist, was visiting Boulder so we decided to record a couple of short instructional videos about digestive bitters. I hope you fall in love with bitters as much as I did. I’ve been using her bitters (keep them in my purse) on a regular basis, especially before a rich dinner.
Video #1: The Power of bitters and how to use Them
Video #2: How to Make Your Own Bitters
What are Bitters?
Bitter compounds occur naturally in many foods: grapefruit, greens, coffee, and chocolate.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are five different distinct flavors that the tongue tastes: sweet, bitter, sour, spicy and salty. These five flavors, when eaten in a balanced manner, properly nourish the organ systems.
Bitter is the counterpart of sweet. In fact, when you start eating more bitter compounds, sweet foods begin to taste sweeter. Sweet vegetables begin to satisfy the sweet flavor on the tongue without the need for refined sugars—especially when the other flavors are balanced.
Today, people eat too much sugar. All this sugar is considered an imbalance of “Earth” in TCM. Taking bitters is a great way to combat that imbalance and reset the body’s need for sugar.
Essentially, bitters are a way of priming the body for food.
Bitters belong to the chemical group iridoids. The bitter taste indicates that there are bitter principles present, which have therapeutic effects. Usually, bitters are herbal plants, roots, leaves, and stems preserved in alcohol. You can find many varieties at fancy bars, most of which contain sugar.
Most natural foods stores sell bitters in the digestive section that do not contain sugar.
My go-to bitters formula recommendation is available at the GUTS & GLORY APOTHECARY (more on this below).
I’m also sharing my story on how this product saved me on a few occasions in Italy after heavy meals, read on.
How do Bitters Work?
Upon tasting, bitters stimulate the vagus nerve in the spinal column, which in turn starts all the digestive juices pumping from each organ in the digestive system.
Saliva increases, pepsin and hydrochloric acid in the stomach are produced, the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder are stimulated to secrete their juices, and peristalsis kicks in to scoot things further down the colon to make room for the food that is coming in.
This is best stimulated through a strong bitter using gentian as the base herb. Guts & Glory Apothecary make a spray called Liver Lover Warming Bitters that gets all the digestive juices flowing so you can assimilate all nutrients better and prevent post-prandial blood sugar spikes. Digestion of all the macronutrients is increased with the intake of bitters before a meal along with better breakdown and absorption of minerals.
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My Own Story of How Bitters Helped Me
I spent two months in Europe this summer, much of it in Italy. Tuscany was my first stop and the dinner on my arrival night turned out to be a bit of a disaster—the meal described as “stir-fried rabbit with vegetables,” came out as a deep fried dish. Everything was fried!
Since I hardly ever eat deep-fried food, it was late in the evening (the South Europeans eat late), and I was hungry, I just ate it. Gosh, did I pay for it!
I woke up at 3 am feeling nauseous, heavy, and in pain. There was no way I was going to fall back to sleep and I had such busy days ahead. Jet-lagged and in pain—I wasn’t happy.
This is when I remembered: my bitters! I brought the bitters!
They were Summer’s (she’s the founder of Guts & Glory Apothecary) bitters that I gulped down. And waited. Within 20 minutes, most of the digestive distress was gone. I went back to sleep and felt almost normal in the morning.
Bitters and the Nervous System
You must be in a state of “rest and digest” in order to get the most out of your food and prevent bad bacteria from taking over the food supply in the gut. This state of relaxation is also known as the parasympathetic state. The blood enters the digestive tract and other organs, breathing slows down, and involuntary reactions in the body regulate and settle in.
If you are an anxious person, emotional eater, or feeling stuck in fight, flight, or freeze, taking herbs that are bitter and calming to the nervous system is a great solution to increase assimilation of nutrients, support the microbiome, and reduce stress at mealtime. Sweet & Gentle Bitters by Guts & Glory Apothecary are my favorite bitters for this exact reason.
Sweet & Gentle Bitters are gentle and delicious enough for children. Children often dislike bitter flavors so the combination of peppermint, fennel, and catnip for calming is a subtle enough bitter to pass the taste test by most.
By working with either blend of bitters, you start to train your body to move out of fight, flight, or freeze and get into a state of rest and digest so you can assimilate all the nutrients from your food and balance the microbiome in your favor. This helps prevent the list of diseases mentioned above. Mastering this shift to “rest and digest” is one of the most impactful ways to end digestive issues quickly.
Benefits of Bitters
Most diseases or health issues are caused by one of two things: under-nourishment or over-toxicity. Bitters help you get more nourishment from the food you eat and increase vitamin absorption, add to your mineral reserves, and nourish the body. Minerals, in general, are a little harder to digest, especially if your digestion is at all compromised. Make sure to take bitters when you are eating hard-to-digest fiber, protein, and fats. This will help you break down these nutrients more efficiently.
Another important benefit of bitters is stabilizing blood sugar spikes. People notice when taking bitters that their blood sugar stays even keel and does not spike as high so make sure to especially take bitters with higher carb or sugary meals.
Not everyone should take bitters. For contraindications with herbs and medications or to see which herbs are allowed with pregnancy, click here. Due to the herb, gentian, contained in Liver Lover Warming bitters, it is not recommended for someone with gastric ulcers because it stimulates hydrochloric acid, which irritates the ulcer. The same goes for gastritis. You can use the product once you heal the lining of your stomach.
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Who is the Maker Behind the Bitters?
Summer Bock, the herbalist behind Guts & Glory Apothecary, is renowned for coining the term Gut Rebuilding. She has been perfecting these formulations for over 17 years. She selects herbs that have long been famed for their digestive organ-supporting abilities. Their anti-inflammatory properties improve digestion and they make such a difference that I recommend keeping a bottle in your kitchen, car, and purse.
Discount for Hormones Balance Community
Summer is passing along a discount for you to give the bitters a try. This will give you 10% off your first purchase.
DISCOUNT CODE: HBBITTERS
Liver Lover Warming Bitters
Ingredients: Water, Gluten-free Alcohol*, Gentian*, Orange Peel*, Turmeric*, Licorice Root*, Ginger* (*organic) Also, please note that the amount of alcohol per serving of bitters is equivalent or less than the alcohol present in ripe fruit.
Suggested Use: Each bottle contains 1 oz, which will last depending on your frequency of use. Average use is 3-4 weeks, although acute or diligent use will last one week. Ways to take your tincture: Directly in the mouth or in a small glass of water or tea.
Sweet & Gentle Bitters
Ingredients: Water, Gluten-Free Alcohol*, Catnip*, Peppermint*, Fennel Seed*.(*organic) Most are hand-harvested and wild-crafted.
Suggested Use: Enjoy 4-10 sprays on the tongue before, during, or after meals. Each spray bottle contains 1 oz (30mL) of liquid. Take additional sprays by mouth to relieve digestive discomfort such as gas or bloating.
Bitters 6-Pack (3 of each)
Raves From the Guts & Apothecary Fans:
“Love your work and your bitters. I take the Liver Lovers Warming Bitters before my noon and evening meals. I don’t know if I notice anything in particular, but I want to do everything I can to promote good gut health. I have noticed that I gravitate towards foods more on the bitter side now. Not that I was eating a lot of sweet foods, but I now enjoy things like arugula and radishes in my salads where I didn’t necessarily like them before. Now, the Sweet & Gentle Bitters is a different story. I notice a HUGE difference if I need to take Sweet & Gentle Bitters for any (very occasional) gut rumbling or upset. The Sweet & Gentle Bitters calm things down nicely. It tastes great, too. Thank you for providing such high-quality products.“ Chris
“I can’t think of anything so entirely healing to the digestive tract on many levels as bitter compounds.” Dr. Maya Shetreat-Klein, author of The Dirt Cure
How to Take Bitters?
Liver Lover Warming Bitters and Sweet & Gentle Bitters contain a special blend of herbs that create a deliciously sweet flavor to accompany the bitter taste. You are meant to spray 4-10 sprays on the tongue before eating to help your body more fully digest minerals and vitamins present in the food. The convenient sprayer makes taking the bitters discreet and easy in any situation.
I recommend creating a relaxing pre-meal ritual where you take the bitters while deep breathing to shift into your parasympathetic nervous system so you can be in the best possible state to receive the food you are about to eat.
You may take bitters before each meal. If you forget, go ahead and take it during or after the meal when you remember.
I do not recommend taking the Liver Lover Warming Bitters before bed or in between meals unless you are trying to settle an upset stomach. Sweet & Gentle Bitters can be taken any time as it won’t excessively stimulate digestive juices, but will instead shift the nervous system into a parasympathetic state, which supports sleep, digestion, and healing.
Over time, you should start to notice that you are enjoying your meals more fully when you take bitters first. You’ll also notice that you are able to relieve stomach aches and nausea.
Let me know how bitters help you!!!
Please note that this is a sponsored post, meaning I do receive a small percentage of sales, but all opinions are my own.
Radiological study of the effects of bitters on the digestive organs.
Foreign Title : Rontgenologische Untersuchungen der Wirkungen von Bittermitteln auf die Verdauungsorgane.
Author(s) : GLATZEL, H. ; HACKENBERG, K.
Author Affiliation : Max-Planck-Inst. Ernahrungsphysiol., Dortmund.
Journal article : Planta Medica 1967 Vol.15 pp.223-232
Forschende Komplementarmedizin und Klassische Naturheilkunde = Research in Complementary and Natural Classical Medicine [01 Oct 2001, 8(5):263-273]
Type: Review, Journal Article, English Abstract (lang: ger)
A comprehensive review on Nymphaea stellata: A traditionally used bitter
K. Mohan Maruga Raja, Neeraj Kumar Sethiya, and S. H. Mishra
Department of Pharmacy, Herbal Drug Technology Laboratory, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara – 390 002, Gujarat, India
Address for correspondence: Mr. M. K. Mohan Maruga Raja, Department of Pharmacy, Herbal Drug Technology Laboratory, GH Patel Pharmacy Building, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Donor’s Plaza, Fatehgunj, Badodara – 390 002, Gujarat, India. E-mail: [email protected]
Copyright : © Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3255414/ “Bitter principles are known for a variety of biological responses like blood sugar regulation, stimulating the gastric reflex, and increasing the secretion of enzymes.”
Bitters may not have any concern in pregnancy. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2393-6-21
Herbal medicine use during pregnancy in a group of Australian women
- Della A ForsterEmail author,
- Angela Denning,
- Gemma Wills,
- Melissa Bolger and
- Elizabeth McCarthy
BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth20066:21
© Forster et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2006
- Received: 03 November 2005
- Accepted: 19 June 2006
- Published: 19 June 2006