By Danielle and Lindsey, contributing writers
Have you ever had the feeling of being full (like food is sitting in your stomach) but also still being hungry? I know, it sounds paradoxical, but it was a super annoying symptom I had at the beginning of my healing journey. I had to be really careful about what I ate. Even then, often by dinner time I would feel hungry, but still felt like there was food in my stomach. That feeling was often joined by a tight feeling at the base of my throat and heartburn. Turns out, I had low stomach acid! I started researching and discovered digestive bitters to be a great solution.
What Are Digestive Bitters?
Digestive bitters are concentrated “bitter” herbs, usually tinctured in alcohol, that improve digestion. Taken before a meal, they increase your stomach acid and other digestive juices, which allows you to digest the foods more thoroughly. Wine or beer — which resembled its older, herbal version like “root” beer (it had real herbal roots!) — was also taken before a meal for this reason.
Why Do You Need to Try Them?
Though Americans are used to sweet and salty tastes, other cultures know that the taste of bitter is an essential part of the diet. Bitter greens and roots are often taken to increase digestive juices before, during, or after a meal and are often a standard part of their diet (1). The West is sorely lacking this crucial dietary need.
The bitter taste signals to the digestive organs to produce the juices necessary for digestion. If you suffer from indigestion, heartburn, bloating, gas, or burp often, you probably would benefit from adding bitters to your diet. It’s often thought by the Tums-taking crowd that heartburn is a result of too much stomach acid, when it’s usually quite the opposite. Leaky gut has become a developed country issue worldwide, with most of us missing out on the nutrients we consume because our gut cannot process them. Bitters can help with that issue.
How to Use Digestive Bitters
If you need digestive relief, you can purchase bitters. There are several good brands out there including Earthley’s Digestive Bitters. If you like to DIY, you can make your own (recipe below). It’s recommended to take bitters 15-20 minutes before a meal. Depending on the state of your gut, it may take a few days for your stomach acids to level out, but you should notice relief within 3-5 day. Try out different blends to find the one that helps you the most. Note your symptoms in a journal to track this.
If you have a history of stomach ulcers or gastritis, ask a doctor before starting bitters.
For more information on gut health, check out this Gut Health Support Guide.
How to Make your own Bitters
Pint of Organic vodka
3 Tablespoons of:
- Dandelion root (great for liver health — check your backyard and grab a shovel!)
- Burdock root (also found throughout the U.S., and on your pants and boots in early fall)
- Ginger (an all-around digestive aid and tasty too!)
- Black walnut
- Turmeric (it’s anti-inflammatory as well!)
- Cinnamon, anise, or fennel are popular stomach-smoothers and add flavor.
½ Teaspoon dried orange peel
1 Pint Mason Jar
*Note you don’t need all of the herbs but at least 3 is ideal*
- Measure out your herbs and orange peel and add to the mason jar.
- Slowly pour vodka over the herbs until the jar is full. Place lid on jar
- Allow herbs to steep in vodka, lidded, for 4-6 weeks.
- Once the time has expired, strain out the herbs, and pour into a glass bottle with a dropper (1 oz, 2 oz, whatever size works for you, be sure to get a dropper that has a bulb that is alcohol safe) and pour the remains back into a mason jar.
- Take a dropper full 15-20 minutes before a meal
Adding bitters is a quick, effective way to get your health back on track.