Shawn Peters, Naturopathic Medical Student
Bitters are a group of plant constituents, which are not like other plant constituents but are rather distinguishable by their taste when consumed (bitter principle). Many believe that for bitters to induce their physiological effects they must be tasted. This is important when considering how to use bitters, for example as a tincture or a capsule.
Bitters have been traditionally used as a digestive stimulant, enjoyed most often as a cocktail before a meal. Using bitters before a meal helps to stimulate digestion generally, including the flow of digestive secretions, stimulating gallbladder bile flow (cholagogue), acting as a hepatic to aid liver function, and stimulating the vagus nerve to promote intestinal peristalsis.
Spring is a perfect time to introduce bitters to help aide in sluggish winter digestion, where most of us have been indoors and sedentary far more. Spring is also a great season to help the liver detoxify.
Taraxacum officinale, or Dandelion leaf and root, is a great example of bitter plant that can be used fresh in salads or in soups, is abundant in spring, and promotes both digestion and liver function. Of course it can be used as a dried leaf/root or tincture. Another commonly recognized bitter used as food (or beverage in this case), is Humulus lupulus, or Hops, which is found in beer.
Many plants have the bitter principle and also have secondary actions apart from the actions that I listed above, so it is important to exercise caution when using any new herb.
Bitters are great for spring and for putting a little spring in your digestion. See the references listed for more information.
With an interest in nutrition, I both attended and instructed at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition in Calgary. I practised natural nutrition and worked in health food stores for the better part of a decade before I decided to actively pursue naturopathic medicine. The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine was a natural choice for me and I am loving it. I am deeply passionate about environmental stewardship, intentional communities, and philosophy, including animal rights.
- Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
- Marciano, M., Dr. (2013, November 05). The Bitter Principle. Retrieved April 23, 2016, from https://thenaturopathicherbalist.com/plant-constituents/the-bitter-principle/