Get bitter if you want to feel better
Fashions in food have forgotten an important element, one that is transformative for our health. Check out what’s popular on social media and you’ll see a lot of sweet smoothie bowls, raw cakes and thick shakes. You might also see salty snacks, but bitters barely get a look-in despite their bountiful health benefits.
This column is to remind us all of the incredible health benefits of bitters and encourage you to embrace bitter foods back into your diet.
Why Bitter Is Better?
Bitters have been traditionally used for years in both Chinese and western herbal medicine to aid our digestive system and overall health. Its medicinal use can even be traced back to ancient Egypt.
How do they work? Essentially, the bitter taste stimulates the taste buds, which in turn promotes digestive secretions including saliva, acids, enzymes, and bile, as well as the release of the hormone gastrin. These secretions enhance our upper digestion, the breakdown of foods and the assimilation of nutrients.
Bitters also contain complex carbohydrates, alkaloids, vitamins and minerals that have antioxidant, antiviral, and antispasmodic properties. These ingredients work together to reduce inflammation, control pain, relax muscles, stimulate the repair of the gut wall lining (leaky gut repair) and improve digestion and elimination.
Consuming bitters also helps to recalibrate our taste buds so we can enjoy other flavours and reduce our desire for sweets thus helping us to eliminate sugar cravings.
Which Bitters Are Best?
Bitter herbal tonics are very popular among herbalists and naturopaths for digestive health. My favourite herbal bitters for incorporating into herbal tonic blends are:
- Gentian root (Gentiana lutea) is traditionally used for low hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach – which can lead to belching or flatulence, bad breath, indigestion, dyspepsia, food allergies and intolerances, nausea and loss of appetite.
- Dandelion root (Taraxacum offcinale radix) is traditionally used for constipation, dyspepsia, poor digestion and liver function, detox and loss of appetite.
- Angelica root (Angelica archangelica) is traditionally used for digestive weakness, intestinal inflammation, colitis, and stimulates circulation.
- Goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis) is traditionally used for loss of appetite, gastritis, colitis, dyspepsia, and leaky gut.
Bitter herbal tonics are best consumed 15 minutes before each meal in a little water much like an aperitif.
Note: See your natural health practitioner for a prescription and specific dose in the form of a tonic/tincture or capsule/tablet form. Herbal tonics or tinctures are only available with a prescription from your Naturopath or Herbalist. A qualified practitioner will ensure your medications, supplements or current health status do not interact with the herbs. When a herbalist prescribes herbal medicine they consider your constitution: age, allergies, sensitivity, robustness, size, temperature and current status of health. Always remember to tell you practitioner if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Bitter Foods & Herbal Teas
It is simple to incorporate bitters into our diet:
- Cooked or raw artichokes. To eat, pull the leaves off and pull the wide part of the leaf through the teeth to remove the soft, delicious white flesh. For extra flavour dip the white base into an emulsion of lemon juice and olive oil. Cook whole artichokes by boiling in quality bone stock and some lemon juice until soft – or for about 45 minutes. Eat as above. Enjoy the leftover stock with extra lemon juice.
- Bitter greens such as rocket, endive, chicory and radicchio leaves can be enjoyed as a salad.
- Bitter teas such as Dandelion root, St Mary’s Thistle seed, Globe artichoke leaf and Chamomile flowers when steeped long release their bitterness.
A Bitter Herb & Leaf Salad
Enjoy before or with meals. These herb & salad greens also offer plenty of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants and cleansing chlorophyll.
- 1 bowl of mixed bitter greens such as rocket, radicchio, dandelion and endive leaves.
- 1 handful fresh herbs such as coriander, basil, parsley, mint, oregano and thyme leaves.
- 1 fresh lemon or lime, juice and zest.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin cold pressed olive oil.
- Season with salt and freshly cracked pepper.
Toss all ingredients in a bowl. Season and enjoy!
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