Homemade Herbal Bitters
I love bitters! It has been a lifelong joy in celebrating them not only as plant-medicine but also for fun. Bitters are one of the key components in many of my herbal tonics.
It’s true that when people first try herbal medicine they think that they are all bitter, however, some are absolutely more bitter than others. You can have warming bitters, cooling bitters and aromatic bitters. Their medicinal actions can be relaxing, stimulating and tonifying. Their uses are abundant.
So what’s so good about Bitters?
Simply put a bitter is “a substance that promotes appetite, digestion and absorption by stimulating the secretion of digestive juices via reflexes from taste buds, gastrin and vagus” (Thomsen 2020). This means, when you taste bitter in your mouth it stimulates the whole digestive system.
Studies show that bitters can also support stabilising blood sugar levels. I use bitters for many digestive ailments – from mouth to the bottom: constipation, loose stools and diarrhoea, heartburn, bloating, nausea, flatulence, food intolerances, SIBO and gut bugs.
Take your bitters before a meal to help stimulate your digestion, and even after to assist with sluggish digestion and a bit of overindulgence.
Many of our immune herbs are bitter as well – there is more and more emerging evidence of the role of bitters for the immune system.
I’ll probably always have a small bottle of bitters in my bag at all times – and my all-time favourite bitter would have to be Gentiana lutea – which is a very low-dose cooling bitter.
Bitter foods are easy to incorporate into your way of eating (here’s a previous article all about it!).
Let’s Make Citrus Bitters
This recipe is really simple and is a great place to start including bitters into your drink. You can get creative and add more flavours as you like – you’ll probably find some good ones in your spice rack. Homemade herbal bitters are a great thing to have in the kitchen for adding some flavour and medicinal support.
To use your bitters add some to soda water for a refreshing drink. Or add about 2-3ml to a small amount of water, around 30mls to have before dinner as a digestive bitter to help get your gastric juices flowing. Feel free to spice up a Gin’n’Soda as well if you feel like it.
You will need:
- Clean, sterilised jar
- A solvent of choice – I use 40% vodka, but you can also use Glycerin (3 parts Vegetable Glycerine and 1 part distilled water.)
- Organic & wax free Citrus rinds (I used organic Tangelo) including the white pithy bits. You could even mix a few different types if you like.
Firstly, dehydrate the citrus rinds in a very low oven or dehydrator. Using dried herbs will help prevent mouldy bits happening. The rinds should be dried, not burnt or discourled.
Sterilise your jar and pop the dried rinds in. Cover with your solvent of choice, ensuring that the liquid covers all the whole ingredients.
Seal and leave out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks, gently shaking daily to get all the goodness out.
At this time the mixture should smell more like the citrus aromatics and less like alcohol. Now it’s ready to go! You simply strain through a muslin cloth and pop it in a sterilised bottle ready for use. Leave to stand for a few days to let the sediment settle – feel free to strain again to remove these bits.
Things to Remember:
- It is best to use glass!
- Immerse the ingredients under the alcohol
- Leave in a dark place
- Don’t forget to label your bitters
- Agitate your bitters every day!
Want to get more creative?
It’s easy to add more flavour to these homemade herbal bitters. The sky’s the limit! Go wild with choices from your spice rack, or purchase some beautiful organic dried herbs from my favourite suppliers – Highland Herbs or Southern Light Herbs.
You can pick pretty much any fruit, seeds, peels, barks, stems, petals, nuts!
Spices you can include in your homemade herbal bitters could be – Allspice, Aniseed, cardamom, celery, Chamomile, cloves, coriander, cucumber, fennel, fruit, juniper, lavender, lemongrass, Licorice, Nutmeg, peppermint, rose petals, vanilla, sumac, tamarind – whatever you want to use! Even cacao!
The bottom line is that Bitters are amazing and learning to include them in your daily life is easy and can really taste delicious! Well, maybe not delicious – but they are pretty awesome.
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