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Herbal Basics: Bitters 101

5 Min Read
Herbal Basics: Bitters 101
Updated on May 29, 2024

Bitter herbs are some of the most beloved by herbalists and fundamental to digestive health. When you taste the challenging flavor of bitterness, you strengthen your digestive response and enhance the secretion of the body’s natural digestive juices which in turn optimizes digestive function.* This is crucial as the old herbal saying goes, “it’s not just about what you eat, but rather what you assimilate.”

As human beings, we evolved consuming vast amounts of wild plants, like roots and berries, most of which are rich in bitter flavor. With the birth of modern agriculture and the convenience of eating processed food, the bitter taste was stripped away in exchange for more pleasurable flavors: sweet and salty.

Unsurprisingly, then that today in a world that dramatically lacks the flavor of bitterness in our daily diets, digestive woes are all too common. Some mainstream approaches are an easy bandage to the root cause, but bitter herbs support and retrain the body to work the way that it was designed. When it comes to digestive health, herbs are among your best allies, and with good reason: they work.*

Bitter herbs have a long history of use for soothing occasional gas and bloating, relieving nausea and heartburn, encouraging digestive secretions, and promoting gentle detox. They also support liver function.* The key to herbal medicine is understanding the nuances of each herb so you know which remedy to reach for based on your specific needs. Below is a list of a few notable bitter herbs, their benefits and where to find them.

Bitters Herbs & Their Digestive Benefits

Bitter Herbs & Their Digestive Benefits

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Often overlooked or dismissed as a weed, dandelion is one of the greatest medicinal plants in Traditional European herbalism. It is one of the most commonly used herbs for gently stimulating the liver, supporting the kidneys and promoting healthy digestion.* Dandelion’s role as a bitter herb and as a diuretic make it a fantastic choice for general health, daily detox, and well-being. All parts of this plant are medicinal and edible.

Enjoy the root as a tea, in tincture form, or you can add the fresh root to soups or broths. Harvest the young spring leaves in unsprayed or uncontaminated areas and add to soups, juices, and salads. The yellow “petals” can be plucked from the head of the dandelion and sprinkled over salads, the whole flower can be battered and turned into fritters, or the plant can be brewed into an old-time recipe of dandelion wine. As an herbal supplement, our organic Dandelion Leaf and Root tea is a daily habit for us and a faithful ally for everyday wellness.*

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock root is highly regarded as a unique digestive tonic and supporter of healthy liver function. As a bitter, it is mild, yet effective. As a fresh herb, burdock root has a rich nutritional profile and is very nourishing and food-like. Herbalists have long used it to support healthy skin and to nourish the microbiome. This root has been praised for its alterative action, which supports channels of elimination in the body and supports healthy digestion. Rich with inulin and prebiotic starches, burdock root is used to help support healthy kidneys and beautiful, glowing skin.* Fresh burdock root makes a great addition to stir-fries and soups. It’s also delicious pickled.

For its liver-supportive functions, you can find it in our organic EveryDay Detox® Lemon tea.

Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), schisandra is known as wǔ wèi zi, or the “five flavor fruit,” as it contains all five tastes — bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. Because of its unique complexity in flavor, schisandra pairs well with almost anything, making it a truly versatile herb. We love using this herb because of its gentle liver support and gentle detoxifying qualities.* It's also been traditionally used as a powerful adaptogen that supports the immune and nervous systems and overall stamina, making it an ideal everyday herb for this fast-paced modern world.*

This herb is one of the real superheroes in our organic EveryDay Detox® Schisandra Berry tea.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

This common flower isn’t just a sleep aid but also a calming herb that eases digestion and occasional nausea, and relaxes twitchy tummies.* Soothing and calming, chamomile is a fantastic and gentle bitter, especially when steeped as a tea for longer than 5 minutes or in tincture form.

Enjoying a cup of Chamomile tea after a big meal is a time-honored tradition by herbalists.

Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)

The leaves of the globe artichoke have a different quality than that of our common aromatic herbs. With a similar effect on the digestive system, artichoke is cooling  and drying in its energetic qualities. In Western herbalism, it has traditionally been used when digestion is slow. A relative of milk thistle, artichoke has an affinity for the liver and is an herbalist favorite when liver support is part of your wellness goals.*

Artichoke can be found in Urban Moonshine’s Healthy Liver Bitters, which is an excellent everyday liver support formula.

Gentian (Gentiana lutea)

This is a classic bitter herb with a long history of use in bitter liquors and aperitifs. One of the most intense bitter roots we use, gentian has been utilized in traditional European herbalism for centuries. Because of its intense flavor, a little bit of gentian’s bitterness goes a long way, and physiologically, we don’t need a lot of bitter to have a maximum effect on our digestion. Gentian is often used in combination with other digestive supporting herbs and warming aromatics to achieve a well-rounded digestive bitters formula.*

Gentian is found in almost all Urban Moonshine Digestive Bitters.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

A warming carminative traditionally used for motion sickness, stomach upset, and cramping, ginger is often paired with bitter herbs, and used for digestive support.* A classic herbal kitchen ingredient, ginger is one of the most versatile spices(?) and can always be found in a grocery store.

Our organic Ginger tea is a great one for after meals, or with a squeeze of lemon when waking up in the morning.

While the world of herbal remedies can feel overwhelming, digestive support is where plants easily shine and is a great place to start if you are new to using herbs. Adding these herbal allies to your daily rituals can do wonders for the digestive system, and thus overall wellness.*

If you are interested in making your own bitters check out our Citrus Spiced Dandelion Bitters recipe.

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