What is a Bitter?

The “proof” that nasty tasting medicine can be good for you!

Bitters are herbs that have a predominantly bitter taste. These remedies have an increasingly major role in holistic herbal treatment and especially that of preventative medicine. Because of their wide effect on the body’s physiology they help enormously in treating the body as a whole.

How Bitters Work

In most herbal bitters there is a chemical principle that is present called “The Bitter Principle”. This is often a volatile oil, an alkaloid or sesquiterpene. In each case they appear to work in a similar way by triggering a sensory response in the mouth. The sensation of bitterness is directed by the nerves to the central nervous system. From here a message goes to the gut giving rise to the digestive hormone gastrin. These leads to a whole range of ramifications, all of value to the digestive process and general bodily health.

  • Stimulation of appetite during convalescence
  • General stimulation of the flow of digestive juices from the pancreas, duodenum and liver. This aids a great range of problems tat have their basis in inefficient or allergy distorted digestion
  • Aid the liver in it’s work of detoxification and increase the flow of bile
  • Regulatory effect upon the secretion by the pancreas of the hormones that regulate blood sugar, insulin & glucagon
  • Help the gut wall repair damage through stimulating self-repair mechanisms

Bitters also have important Secondary Actions, including:

  • Nervines – Humulus lupulus (Hops)  & Gentiana lutea (Gentian)
  • Anti-microbials – Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal) & Berberis aquifolium (Oregon Grape)
  • Anti-inflammatory – Achillea millefolium (Yarrow) & Calendula off (Calendula)
  • Warming – Angelica archangelica (Angelica)
  • Cooling – Mentha piperita (Peppermint) & Gentiana lutea (Gentian)

Herbal Examples:

  • Artemesia absinthium (Wormwood)
  • Gentiana lutea (Gentian)
  • Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
  • Angelica archangelica (Angelica)
  • Berberis vulgaris (Barberry)
  • Hydrastis canadensis (Goldenseal)
  • Matricaria recutita (Chamomile)
  • Taraxacum off. (Dandelion)