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Bitters: For More Than Optimal Digestion | The Herb Clinic

Blog | A World Of Herbs & Natural Remedies | The Herb Clinic


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Bitters: For More Than Optimal Digestion | The Herb Clinic

Jonathan Kemp

Have you ever wondered why aperitifs traditionally enjoyed before meals have a bitter taste? Whilst not always the most delicious, bitters and bitter herbs are very good for us. They help to prepare our digestive system to receive food, to encourage digestion and the absorption of nutrients, followed by the excretion of waste products through our bowels.

When our bitter taste buds are stimulated, a chain reaction is triggered that signals the release of stomach acid, bile from our liver & gallbladder as well as other important digestive enzymes and substances produced by our pancreas and intestinal tract.

Bitter herbs have been used for centuries with the aim of maintaining and improving the structure of all organs of the digestive system by encouraging optimal function.

Dandelion, a familiar bitter.

Dandelion, a familiar bitter.

Some bitters may be familiar to you; Dandelion and Burdock root both offer liver and gallbladder support and are gentle laxatives to encourage normal bowel function. Alas the modern fizzy, sugary drink ‘Dandelion and Burdock’ bears neither resemblance to the original mead of the fermented roots, the herbs themselves nor to the herbal tea/medicine forms that I refer.

Milk thistle has a major role as a liver protectant, shown by many studies to protect the liver cells from toxic substances and to improve liver function in many diseases.

Chamomile, is a more gentle bitter with a taste generally found pleasant by its ever-increasing number of drinkers. Commonly sipped after meals both for pleasure and to encourage digestion, Chamomile contains volatile oils that have a calming effect on both the gastrointestinal tract and the nervous system. Coined by many as the ‘Mother of the gut’, it can encourage all round digestion, ease trapped wind, and reduce inflammation making it a valuable addition to treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, digestive complains with a nervous element and inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract.

The cleansing properties of bitters make them useful for a range of other conditions outside digestive function.

Bitters are often used in herbal medicine as part of a prescription for arthritis & joint complaints to encourage the breakdown and elimination of inflammatory chemicals produced at the affected joint/s, that if left lingering can continue to stimulate the inflammatory response, thus propagating the pain and inflammation. They are used in combination with anti-inflammatory herbs to help reduce pain and swelling, and other herbs to encourage the flow of blood and lymph to the joint to deliver oxygen and remove waste products and herbs to promote healing.

Herbs with skin healing, lymphatic and anti-inflammatory properties are prescribed in combination with herbs to address the root cause of many skin conditions, whether it is due to hormone imbalance, an allergic reaction (such as in eczema), immune dysregulation or infection etc.  Such conditions often respond well to a bitter element within the prescribed formulation to encourage elimination of the skin cells metabolites and to support excretion.

For a bespoke Herbal medicine for specific health concerns, contact Ginny Kemp Registered Medical Herbalist at the Broad Street Practice for a free & confidential conversation about your health.