//Digestive Bitters

About Digestive Bitters


First used in the 1700s to treat just about anything that ailed you, digestive bitters are named as such because of their taste as well as how they increase saliva and stomach acids. They are a natural, easy and affordable way to boost digestion, improve the absorption of food, and reduce stomach upsets. It has been used in traditional alternative medicine for years. Bitters are typically made up of botanical ingredients that come from the roots, bark, or flowers of plants as well as a variety of herbs.

Some combine the bitters with grain alcohol to form a tincture, but you can also mix the bitters with either regular purified water or sparkling water to help digest your food at mealtime. Or, place them directly under the tongue. Hot tea is also a great way to mix in bitters before or after meals.

Some people choose to mix them with spices to make them taste better. Essentially, bitters will contain the bitter ingredient and a carrier like alcohol or water. When made with alcohol, it helps to preserve the shelf life. They can also be made using glycerin, which is a liquid form of sugar. While dosing and how often you use them will vary depending on what you are using them for, all it takes is just a few drops as bitters are very potent.

Digestive bitters will also help improve the breakdown of fats and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K while improving protein digestion and mineral absorption and may reduce food sensitivities. They also act as a natural diuretic to decrease water retention and support regularity. They help to remove inflammation and promote detoxification to ease joint pain and promote healthy skin, lift your overall mood, and may prevent leaky gut.


In addition to digestion help, bitters have been shown to help balance the liver, relieve stress, fight inflammation, and boost immunity. While some recent research indicates there may be high potential for bitters to reduce inflammation and have a positive effect on blood sugar levels, it may also help fight cancer.

They are most often thought to help with ailments such as:

  • indigestion
  • heartburn
  • nausea
  • cramping
  • gas
  • bloating
  • Curb sugar cravings

One study showed that a bitter taste overcomes the desire for sweet flavors. This being the case, bitters may help curb sugar cravings. This is good news for those trying to lose weight as they can exchange the sweet treat and reach for bitters instead. Bitters have also been shown to suppress the appetite which may help with over eating issues. Appetite-suppressing bitters include artichoke leaf, silymarin, dandelion and chicory root.

Foods to Avoid

Sugars and sweet foods are always necessary to limit intake of as much as possible, and bitters may help suppress these cravings. With their overall extreme benefits to health, it is generally recommended that bitters be avoided by people who have certain health conditions or are pregnant. The bitters could interact with some medications and should not be used by children. Some conditions and medications that could interfere with bitters is that burdock root could have an effect on anticoagulants or diabetes medications, dandelion could interfere with antibiotics, and artichoke leaf should not be used with those who have gallstones as it could increase bile flow. Pregnant women should not use Angelica root, yarrow, mugwort, or passionflower since it could cause the uterine to contract prematurely. If you have a kidney disorder or a history of seizures, wormwood should be avoided, and Gentian root should not be used by those with low blood pressure. As always, if you have an allergy to certain plants, flowers, or herbs, you should avoid bitters that contain them.

Foods that Help

Bitters come in a variety of forms, so there are plenty of options to choose from. You can also find benefits of bitters in foods such as bitter melon, dandelion greens, cranberries, broccoli, arugula, kale, radicchio, Brussels sprouts, apple cider vinegar, coffee, dill, grapefruit, sesame seeds, eggplant, and dark chocolate.

Those that help boost immune function and fight inflammation include Oregon grape, barberry, angelica, and chamomile.

Orange peel bitters were shown in a Georgetown University study to boost the resting metabolism rate. This could be beneficial in weight loss as it is certainly more natural and safer than weight loss medications which attempt to do the same thing.

Genetian bitters are great when used in a tincture to aid digestion and possibly even be a component to help fight cancer as indicated in a medical study published in the International Journal of Oncology.

Ginger bitters is perhaps the most well known natural digestive aid. It is often recommended to pregnant women to calm morning sickness or for travelers dealing with motion sickness as well as poured into a glass of ginger ale to calm a sick stomach. It is often used for cancer patients who are nauseous from the effects of chemotherapy or radiation.

Wormwood is a strong bitter that may help boost your appetite when you suffer from lack of appetite brought on by digestion issues or medication and is also commonly used to treat parasitic infections.

Dandelion root may help with digestion as well as reducing inflammation throughout the body and provides a nice antioxidant as well. Just be sure to harvest the dandelion properly and never use those that have been treated with lawn chemicals.

Artichoke leaf helps to protect the liver and aid in cell regeneration since it contains a flavonoid silymarin.

Licorice root boosts the immune system while soothing digestion and is an anti-inflammatory.

Wild cherry bark is great for boosting immunity and may have anti-proliferative effect on colon cancer cells.

Chicory root holds compounds that are cancer fighting as well as aiding in relieving indigestion, loss of appetite, and heartburn.

Burdock root has been proven to fight inflammation and may help with osteoarthritis. When combined with ginger or turmeric, this bitter is an immune-boosting choice. It detoxes the blood to remove toxins.

Black walnut leaf helps deter inflammation as it contains tannin. It is also very beneficial to the health of the skin.

Angelica root great to ease heartburn and gas as well as loss of appetite while improving overall circulation.

Devil’s club root helps with the respiratory system cardiovascular health and gastrointestinal troubles.

Sarsaparilla improves liver function and may help with certain skin conditions. It also provides an anti-inflammatory agent that may help with arthritis.

Additional bitters include Oregon grape root, mugwort, orris root, calamus root, barberry root, cinchona bark, horehound, and quassia bark.

Make Bitters at Home

To make the bitters, it’s always best to use the whole herb as opposed to ground ones. Chop them into proper sized pieces that you can work with, but keep in mind that if you make them too small they will be difficult to strain out of the final solution. Put them in a glass container with a lid and fill about a third of the way before adding grain alcohol or 100 proof vodka to the top. Bourbon, rum, and rye also work well. Let the mixture sit for a month, shaking it daily to mix it up. When you are ready to use them, strain the solid pieces out using cheesecloth or a coffee filter and then store them in an air-tight container inside a cool and dark location.

Another great way to use them is to mix some bitters to make a palatable drink by stirring together about 10 ounces of sparkling water, 3 drops of ginger essential oil that is approved for internal use, 12 drops of liquid Stevia, and ¼ teaspoon of bitters poured over ice.

Emotional Component

On top of the gut-brain reaction that can create stress or whole wellness, digestion problems extend far beyond a trip to the bathroom to find relief. They can also add a great deal of stress and uncertainty to our lives as we never know for sure when we will be hit by pain or discomfort that make us need to run to find the closest bathroom. This can disrupt daily activities and even hurt our relationships including how we are perceived at work. Not to mention, when we deal with digestion issues, it is unpleasant to say the least. All of this can make a person downright crabby and miserable to be around.

Herbs and Vitamins that Help

Adding herbs and aromatics like turmeric, lavender, or citrus to bitters helps to add flavor and sweetness to balance out the bitter taste. These include herbs and flowers of mint, sage, valerian, hibiscus, lemongrass, peppermint, sorrel, rose, milk thistle, lavender, chamomile, passionflower, and yarrow. Aromatic spices include cinnamon, cassia, turmeric, cloves, peppercorns, vanilla beans, cardamon, chiles, star anise, juniper berries, fennel, ginger, and nutmeg. Citrus peels and dried fruit as well as nuts and coffee or cocoa beans or nibs also add a nice aroma.

If you prefer not to mess with making the bitters yourself, there are products that come in capsules or liquid form that you can buy ready to use.

Digestion Effect

We may think that to control indigestion, we need an antacid when, in reality, our stomach acid may need to be triggered to do its job. The bitters actually stimulate the bitter taste receptors in our bodies which are not limited to the tongue. We also have receptors in the stomach, pancreas, and intestines. Why so many bitter taste receptors? Some research indicates that it is intended to alert our body of potential dangerous or even poisonous foods.

Once we activate the bitter receptors, it stimulates the gustatory nerves, dilates the gastric vessels, and then increases salivary and gastric secretions. The gallbladder is also stimulated which will help aid in bile production and movement. The more bile movement, the better your intestines will be at absorbing nutrients and breaking down certain wastes. All of this leads to enzyme production can then be stimulated. This will help break down the food for proper and better digestion. We begin to digest food quicker and with fewer upsets. When our digestion system eliminates waste efficiently, it helps to detoxify our bodies and reduce inflammation throughout the body.

Some great bitters for appetite control include artichoke leaf, citrus peel, licorice and gentian root.

Essential Oils that May Help

Ginger is a great essential oil to have on hand to help with digestion. Additionally, lavender helps to add stress relief to bitters.

Stress Effect

Bitters are also thought to ease and relieve stress and the damaging effects on the body. This is thanks to the gut-brain connection. When bitters are used with lavender, it has been shown to be beneficial to overall mood, anxiety, and sleep. Passionflower boosts GABA levels in the brain, which promotes relaxation and has been shown to ease generalized anxiety with fewer side effects than prescription sedatives. Also, Valerian root is paired with passionflower to promote similar calming effects. This herb is often used as a sleep aid and also increases the amount of GABA in the brain.

Hormones that Affect or are Affected

Consuming bitters helps to stimulate the production of PYY and GLP-1 hormones which help to control and suppress appetite. Bitters also give the liver a boost by helping it to eliminate toxins and coordinating sugar and fat metabolism. This helps release gallbladder-supporting hormones like CCK cholecystokinin. Overall, bitters are beneficial in helping to keep hormones in balance.



Bitters and dyspepsia – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446506/

Bitters inhibit sweet receptors – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3806211/

Bitters and gut hormone release – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4622133/

Citrus orange bitters – https://www.medsci.org/v09p0527.htm

Effect on cancer cells – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977805/

Ginger efficacy study – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10793599

Anti-inflammatory, Anti-oxidative – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24447978