What Are Digestive Bitters And Should You Take Bitters?

Bitters are a drink you sip before a meal to aid in healthy digestion. Traditional diets contained bitter foods because of their digestive action. The bitter taste is a huge part of digestion that many people are missing in their diets today. But before you say no way to this, bitters are diluted in a glass of water, so you aren’t drinking a horrible bitter drink.

Bitters are used as tonics, digestive and metabolic aids and as an anti-inflammatory medicinal. Bitters resolve digestive issues such as constipation, gas, bloating, overeating, lack of appetite, nausea, difficulty digesting fats and some food intolerances.

If you look at the majority of health problems we face these days, more often than not you can trace their roots back to some sort of nutrient deficiency or gut related problem.

So Why Should You Use Bitters?

The bitter taste of the herbs actually activates the liver and digestive juices to prepare your body to effectively process foods, which is especially helpful when digesting all the rich and fatty foods we tend to enjoy. Bitters taken with every meal keeps your digestion operating at optimal efficiency. All bitter tasting herbs have a positive effect on the digestion system and the body’s detoxification system.

When you taste bitters, your whole body slows down. Your body starts to remember what its like to relax. Your heart rate slows down, your glandular and intestinal activity increases, and the muscles in your intestinal tract relax, getting ready to digest.

The fight or flight response is relaxed in order to allow your body to nourish itself. This is very important because if you’re in constant fight or flight mode, your body isn’t getting proper nourishment.

How To Use Bitters

It’s very easy to incorporate bitters into your diet, you can harvest dandelion root and make a tincture. Or you can buy the herbs and make a tincture or buy tinctures of the herbs listed below. See my post on Tincture Making for detailed instructions on how to make tinctures. About 25 drops of tincture is taken with water before or during meals.

Another way to incorporate dandelions is to saute the young  dandelion leaves in spring. The leaves are full of potassium and a highly effective diuretic. This tastes so good!

Sautéed Dandelion Greens

  • Organic dandelion leaves
  • 2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
On a medium low temperature, heat up a fry pan with the olive oil and garlic.
  • Saute garlic for 2 minutes
  • Add in the dandelion greens and cover for 10 minutes
  • Open cover, mix a little more and cover for 10 more minutes or until the leaves are limp. Remove from heat.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Pour apple cider vinegar on top

 Common Herbs For Bitters and All Are Used As Tinctures

  • gentian root- tonifies liver, digestive aid, promotes gut health, cancer fighting compounds
  • elecampane- anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, digestive aid
  • mugwort- anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, digestive aid
  • yarrow- anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory, reduces flatulence
  • angelica- reduces flatulence, digestive aid, anti-viral
  • chamomile- anti- inflammatory, promotes restful sleep, anti-anxiety, reduces stress
  • bitter orange- rich in flavonoids, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory
  • horehound- expectorant, reduces flatulence, tonifies liver
  • artichoke leaf- liver protectant, promotes liver health
  • cardamom seed- digestive aid, reduces flatulence, heart health
  • milk thistle- immune system health, liver protectant, antioxidant, digestive aid
  • cinnamon- anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiviral properties
  • ginger root- anti-inflammatory, digestive aid
  • dandelion root- antioxidant, tonifies liver, anti-inflammatory
  • burdock root- antioxidant, supports liver health, anti-inflammatory, efficient digestion of fats and proteins

Common Spices

  • black pepper- warming spice, stimulates digestion, increases the bio-availability of many nutrients
  • coriander- helps to make more bitter herbs taste better, carminative
  • fennel- treats stomachaches, nausea, constipation

Digestive Bitters Recipe

Don’t think you have to use only these herbs and spices to make your bitters. You can use any combination of the herbs and spices listed above to make your own bitters.


  • 2 1 quart mason jars
  • large mixing bowl
  • scale
  • dish to measure herbs
  • cheesecloth
  • large measuring cup
  • rubber band
  • 2 oz. dropper bottles


  • 1/2 oz. ginger root
  • 1/2 oz. cinnamon chips
  • 1/2 oz. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 oz. orange peel
  • 1/2 oz. dandelion root
  • 1/2 oz. burdock root
  • 1/2 oz. chamomile
  • 1/2 oz. coriander
  • 1/2 oz. black pepper
  • 1.75 L 40- or 50-proof vodka


  • Stir the herbs and roots together dividing equally between 2 glass quart jars.
  • If the jars are filled more than halfway, portion off the herbs into a third jar.  You want  the jars to be 1/3 – 1/2 full of herbs.
  • Top both jars off equally with vodka.
  • Cover the jars and store in a cool, dark place for at least 6 weeks, 12 weeks is even better.
  • Shake the jars every couple of weeks to agitate the herbs.
  • Cover a large measuring cup with cheesecloth, securing it with a rubber band.
  • Strain the bitters through the cheesecloth into the measuring cup.
  • Squeeze the cloth to extract as much liquid as possible. You should have just over a quart of bitters.
  • Compost the herbs.
  • The bitters are now ready to be used!
  • I like to dose out 2 oz. at a time into a dropper bottle for easy everyday use.

To use: squeeze one dropper full of bitters into 12 oz. of filtered water. Drink 30 minutes before a meal.

The organs affected by bitter herbs:

  • heart
  • small intestines
  • liver
  • gallbladder
  • pancreas

According to the herbalist David Hoffman, the following conditions are not conducive to using bitters because of over stimulation of the exocrine (salivary) gland:

  • Pregnancy
  • Kidney stones
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Dysmenorrhea
  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Gastritis
  • Peptic ulcer

The greatest benefits of digestive bitters are realized when they are consumed on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time.

Bitters aren’t a drink you are most likely to be accustomed to. But continuing to drink even a small amount before or during every meal will improve your digestive health tremendously.


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