Bitters :: “the forgotten flavor” in Westernized food prep.
Where did all the bitter flavors go and why should you care?
The first time I heard someone speak about the flavor profile Bitters, it was with an air of mystery. After talking about the Six Tastes in an Ayurvedic class, we got to Bitters and I felt a bit lost. I could follow along suggestions for a balanced eating lifestyle when it came to sweets, sours, salty… but when it came to bitters, I wasn’t fully aligned with what foods even fell into this category.
Fast forward to my 2022 Clinical Herbalism Course, where we spent hours speaking to the importance of incorporating Bitters into a regular regimen.
Why are Bitters so important that both Western + Eastern philosophy’s place emphasis on them?
From an Eastern Perspective, Ayurveda (Life Science), believes that the health of our body begins and ends with the health of our gut. They view how quickly or slowly are you digesting your foods and it begs the question of how are you also digesting your experiences (but more on that another time)
From a Western Perspective, Herbalism, we look at the lens of digestion begins as soon as we open our mouth. It’s a symbolic “call to action” for the rest of the body to prepare for what comes next…
If you haven’t guessed already the flavor profile ‘bitters’ plays an important role in our digestion process.
Traditionally consumed at the beginning of a meal, bitters symbolizes to the stomach “hey food is coming let’s get ready”. In doing so we begin a chain reaction that can support the overall digestive processes in running much smoother. Bitters help to stimulate appetite and or the digestive process. They help to reduce gas, bloating and indigestion.
My teacher, Elaine Sheff, spoke often about how we used to eat ‘Bitter Salads’ + drink ‘Bitters Drinks’ before meals with a purpose. Now it seems we’ve turned these intentional practices into something unrecognizable.
It's no wonder that the pharmacy section of digestive aids are spilling over with products for gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, etc. We've misplaced and misbalanced a key ingredient of a well established eating lifestyle.
The GOOD NEWS, it’s simple to begin to add bitters into your daily regimens.
Let’s first understand some of the herbs that we consider to be apart of a
Bitter ‘Herbal Action’ Herbs:
Dandelion Leaf + Root (Taraxacum officials)
Burdock (Articum lappa)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Oregon grape (Mahonia spp)
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
You likely notice some fairly standard herbs in this lineup that you may already be consuming.
You may be asking, 'if hops + coffee are already great American staples, why are we concerned with consuming these herbs for their medicinal properties'?
Great Question... but before you start high fiving to the notion that Beer is part of a balanced diet, let’s do a small dissection on Hops as an herbal ally. Lets look at this familiar plant with an herbal lens.
Many years after his reign, King George III is thought to be credited for modern research on Hops medicinal actions after he had much success implementing Hops as his own medicinal aid. In modern herbalism Hops are known to not only be a digestive aid, but also a sedative, support with hypertension, pain relief and a liver tonic.
Ready to head to the breweries with the intention to activate your digestion to wash down those you street tacos from the food truck?
Let’s talk about relevant dosage for Hops to be considered an aid in our herbal world.
Herbarium suggests a Liquid Extraction Dosage (Tincture) :: .5 - 2 ml a day up to 3x a day**
In perspective that is about one tincture dropper 3 times a day!
Like many familiar household herbs we've come to love, we tend to go ALL in. But in the case of Hops as an Herbal Ally, a little goes a long way... through the digestive track that is.
Slamming a beer won’t benefit your health, but mindfully consuming a few sips of a hoppy beer before a meal could be the right balance to bring a cheers to your health.
Resume the Hoppy Dance if you wish, otherwise lets explore some NEW ways to implement bitters into our worlds.
The easiest way to introduce + manage dosage of Bitters into your lifestyle is through Tincture forms. Many of the ingredients listed above you can find in pre-blended liquid extracts or what we’ve come to know as tinctures in modern consumable herbalism.
I’ve used the ‘Original Blend’ from Urban Moonshine. This can be found locally in Ventura County at Lassens or directly ordered through their website Urban Moonshine
This particular product includes many of the plant allies we listed above including:
Dandelion Root | Dandelion Leaf | Burdock | Orange Peel | Fennel Seed | Ginger
The beautiful thing about combining plant allies, is that together they support the digestive system, but in their own unique nature they bring so many other incredible additions to the body when consumed.
In the coming months we will be speaking more about Spring Tonics and how herbs (many of them Bitters) can help us as we transition out of winter months as we shed the metaphorical heaviness of this ending season. Follow our journey and receive notifications when we share new materials to the Library.
I'm Jessy Raspiller, Venture Well Founder + Clinical Herbalist. I've had a passion for optimizing my own health + wellness for the past two decades. I'm excited to rouse others curiosities through the practices, rituals and allies that I've turned to time and time again.
**Please use caution when introducing new herbs. Never blindly take herbal remedies without learning more about their constitutions and contraindications. It’s important to consult with your medical professionals to ensure that herbal allys you’re curious about will best support your overall well-being.
(1) The Herbal Academy, Plant Monograph- Hops-https://herbarium.theherbalacademy.com/monograph/hop/