I never dreamed I would hear these words, and especially from teenagers. As an herbalist, it is music to my ears.
“These bitters are awesome.” “Your bitters have changed my life!” “Can you please pass the bitters?” Say what?
All over the world, people recognize the value of bitter substances to enhance digestive function and general health. In America, we have given up most bitters (with the exception of coffee and dark chocolate) in exchange for salt and sweet flavors. In correlation, we lead the world in diabetes, heart disease, and chronic illnesses.
In Holland, older people enjoy “the bitter hour” or cocktail hour as we call it. They partake of bitter foods and drinks to stimulate their waning digestive powers. Vermouth is made from Wormwood, which is what Vermouth translates as in German. In Africa, the medicinal value of bitter herbs is commonly recognized. In India, they say that those with liver problems commonly seek bitter tasting substances.
Scientific research has shown that bitters applied to the tongue before a meal have a priming effect on upper digestive function, likely mediated by the vagus nerve reflex. We know that vagal stimulation causes an increase in gastric acid secretion (necessary to digest our foods); and rise in gastrin, an increase in pepsin secretion, a slight increase in gallbladder motility and a priming of the pancreas. It is also known that the reflex involves contraction of the digestive sphincters and downward peristalsis of the intestines. So bitters are now known to strengthen the esophageal and duodenal sphincters, which helps normalize Gastric Reflux or GERD.
When we dine on a smorgasboard of foods, the volume and mixture of food types causes our digestion to halt. For example, when eating fruits and starches together, the enzymes secreted to digest each, actually nullify each other’s actions, and our foods just sit still in our stomachs, making us feel bloated and gassy. Bitters jump start that halted digestion and alleviate that congested feeling by moving the food on its way.
Traditionally bitters have been used to keep poisons from snake & scorpion bites moving through and out of our system quickly, they are that powerful. And as a medicine they have been effective for relieving migraines, hiccups, depression and vision problems associated with liver toxicity. In 1698, a Treatise on Asthma written by Floyer noted that digestive bitters mitigated the cause of Asthma. Modern research has found that allergic asthma was associated with a reduction in histamine-stimulated peak acid output from the gastric mucosa. There is a known depression of gastric H2-histamine receptor function in asthma.
This is likely too much information, but suffice it to say that digestive bitters can change a persons life, when digestive malfunction leads to chronic problems, including allergies, arthritis and some auto-immune disorders.
After many years of trial and error, I have made a formula that only requires 3-5 drops on the tongue (rather than a teaspoon at a time) to be effective, that has a complex flavor that is somewhat pleasant, and that both warms and cools digestive function due the variety of herbs involved. If you would like to try a little bottle, just send me an e-mail. They are listed on my blog spot under herbs and products. It is one thing we were all grateful for this Thanksgiving Day. Some of us won’t leave home without it!