How to Make Digestive Bitters
What are Digestive Bitters?
Digestive bitters are a formula of bitter herbs that support digestive function by stimulating digestive juices, like stomach acid (aka HCl), bile, and enzymes so that we can breakdown food naturally - and absorb all those healthy nutrients. Our ancestors consumed bitter plants regularly, but our modern diet (sadly) severely lacks them. With the rise of industrial agriculture, our culture has moved away from bitter foods in favor of sweet and salty foods (…the very processed foods that actually hinder digestive function). It’s a bit of a double whammy but - luckily! - digestive bitters are an easy way to reintroduce beneficial bitterness back into our diets.
The (Simple) Science of Digestive Bitters
Our tongue contains bitter taste receptors (T2Rs). When these receptors are stimulated by bitter foods, our brain perceives the bitterness, and our vagus nerve relays the bitter sensation to our salivary glands, stomach, pancreas, and liver. This promotes the production of beneficial digestive juices and digestive enzymes.
In the stomach are even more bitter taste receptors. When stimulated by bitter compounds, cells with T2Rs secrete hormones into our bloodstream that help us feel full and satiated.
For a more in-depth look at the science behind digestive bitters, check out this post.
The Health Benefits of Digestive Bitters
Digestion is the root cause of SO many health problems (read all about why digestion is so important here). Which is why I’m kind of obsessed with it at Loveleaf Co. Anything that can help us improve our digestion (naturally!) is a win in my book. Bitters have been used for thousands of years to relieve heartburn, nausea, indigestion, gas, and bloating, and help maintain normal bowel movements.
NOTE: Pregnant woman should not use (most) digestive bitters since they are commonly made with gentian and angelica, which are not recommended during pregnancy. For pregnancy-friendly bitters, try these.
Digestive Bitters and Stomach Acid
One of the most common issues I see with clients is low stomach acid. Low stomach acid can result in a myriad of health issues - even ones that don’t seem directly related to digestive issues, like acne and hormonal imbalances. It’s estimated that close to 90% of Americans actually don’t have enough stomach acid, the production of which is inhibited by stress, processed food, and/or excess alcohol consumption.
The good news is that - once diet and lifestyle are addressed - it is relatively easy to naturally increase stomach acid levels with digestive bitters.
Beneficial Herbs for Digestion
Our DIY digestive bitters recipe uses the following beneficial herbs:
ANGELICA / Angelica is a stimulant, which aids in gastrointestinal secretions, absorption, and elimination. It relieves gas and the feeling of fullness. (Avoid if pregnant).
GENTIAN / Gentian is a simple bitter that has been used for over 3,000 years to revitalize the gastrointestinal tract by optimizing levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes. Gentian is especially helpful for protein and fat digestion. (Avoid if pregnant or on H2 receptor antagonists, like Zantac, or other antacids).
DANDELION / Dandelion is high in nutrients and is bitter, which stimulates the cascade of digestive secretions. Dandelion also has a significant cleansing effect on the liver by stimulating bile production, which is important for fat digestion.
GINGER / Known as the “universal medicine,” ginger is warming and carminative, which means it’s great at relieving bloating and gas. Ginger also supports healthy bowel movements.
How to Use Digestive Bitters
Digestive bitters can be dropped directly onto the tongue or mixed into a small amount of pure water or sparkling water. If you frequently experience digestive discomfort, we recommend taking one dropperful of bitters (about 1/4 teaspoon) 10-15 minutes before meals.
To relieve gas and bloating specifically, take one dropperful of bitters (about 1/4 teaspoon) 10-15 minutes before a meal to ignite your digestive system.
To relieve heartburn and indigestion specifically, take one dropperful (about 1/4 teaspoon) of bitters immediately after a meal to soothe your digestive system.
How to Make Digestive Bitters
You can (easily) make your own digestive bitters! Here’s how.
WHAT YOU NEED
Bitter Herbs / Our DIY formula uses angelica root, gentian root, dandelion root, and ginger root. Find these on Amazon.com or at a local herb shop (NYC friends - Flower Power has them all!)
Organic Vodka / Used as a solvent and a natural preservative. If you’re gluten-free, opt for potato vodka as many vodkas are made with gluten-containing grains.
Citrus Rinds and/or Fresh Hardy Herbs / Optional, but delicious! Get organic.
Mason Jar / You’ll need a 12 oz mason jar.
Tulid Lids or Wax Paper / If the jar leaks, I swear by these leakproof lids (for a wide mouth jar get these instead). You can also use wax paper with the metal mason jar lid: simply remove the lid and place a square piece of wax paper over the mouth of the jar before twisting the lid back on.
Cheesecloth or a Nut Milk Bag / Used for straining the herbs. I like this one.
Amber Glass Dropper Bottles / For bottling up your bitters! Take them on-the-go or give as a gift. One recipe will fill about 6-8 dropper bottles.
Add 2 tablespoons angelica root, 2 tablespoons gentian root, 1.5 tablespoons dandelion root, and 1 tablespoon ginger root to the bottom of a clean 12 oz wide mouth mason jar.
Add in the peel from half of an organic lemon, the peel from one-fourth of an organic orange, and 1-2 rosemary sprigs.
Add vodka and fill to the top of the jar, leaving a little airspace so you can shake the mixture without it being too full.
Secure the lid and shake the jar.
Store in a dark, cool place for 2-4 weeks, shaking for 1-2 minutes every day to break down the plants’ cell walls and draw out all the active medicinal properties.
After 2-4 weeks, strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a nut milk bag and squeeze the excess liquid from the herbs. Pour into amber glass dropper bottles, label, and store in a cool, dark place.
Enjoy! Take one dropperful (about 1/4 teaspoon) 10-15 minutes before meals.
NOTE: These bitters should not be used during pregnancy. Instead, try these.