Monday, June 2, 2014


We all learned in school that we had taste receptors on our tongue: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. As Americans, we have studiously avoided the bitter and have an over-fondness for the sweet. We also eat less unprocessed foods than other cultures and more refined flours and sugars. All of this has taken its toll on our collective digestion, skin health, and immune systems. (1)

What if I told you there was a general tonic we all should be taking that would make us healthier? That it helped regulate blood sugar, energy levels, the immune system, and more? That our bodies were built to have it, but as a culture we have denied ourselves this tonic in our food and now we need to take extra measures to replace it in our diet? This tonic we all need is bitters.

What is bitters? Bitter is something that simply tastes bitter in flavor: dandelion, gentian, coffee, dark chocolate and greens are all bitters.

Many traditional cultures around the world believe that it is important to have all 5 flavors within the diet and that each flavor has a specific effect on the body. The flavor of bitter is very much associated with the digestive system. As human beings we evolved eating tons and tons of bitters- bitters greens, bitter roots, bitter barks. The majority of food growing in the wild has an element of bitterness to it. Even the ripest wild blackberry is not purely sweet; it also has a little sour, a little bitter to its flavor profile. Early humans rarely consumed sweets-honey was like food of the gods!
Fast forward to modern times, as a culture we consume an immense amount of sweet, salty and processed food and we have a severe lack of bitterness. But our bod­ies are built for bitter flavors! Bitter engages and excites the digestive system. Bitter challenges the body, alerting it through taste that a complex food is being ingested, more complex than heavily processed food. It is very important for the body to have enough challenge—challenge keeps us strong, on our toes, ready for action! Bitters are like the gym for the digestive system, they help to keep it toned. Our brilliant tongue is like the doorbell to the digestive system and when we taste something bitter it rings that doorbell, “Ding-dong! Time to eat, time to wake up, time to digest!” All the digestive organs get “turned on”—excited. They start to secrete digestive juices in preparation for the incoming food! -Urban Moonshine Website

"Herbal digestive bitters begin working as soon as they reach the taste buds in our mouth. The bitter taste has a reflex action on our stomach and pancreas, stimulating the production of digestive juices. Bitters also stimulate the liver and prepare the gall bladder for the release of bile. Using bitters before eating has always been a good idea, but the need for additional bitters has become a necessity as most people have eliminated most of the bitter foods from their diet."- Herb Pharm Website

Bitters are a true tonic that should be taken regularly over time in the same way that bitter foods would be consumed (if we Americans consumed them, that is). Continued use of digestive bitters is not only safe, it is the most best way to use them! The positive effect of bitters on digestion actually increases with time and the full effect is seen only after continued and prolonged use. We have started making our own line of bitters for the store using local hops, local dandelion root, local burdock root and gentian. We add three carminatives to the mix: cardamom, orange peel, and cinnamon for a great tasting all-around digestif.

Did you know that the benefits of bitters extend beyond digestion? As I indicated above, skin and immunity can benefit from regular use, and bitters also increase the tone of the autonomic nervous system (the system that energizes the digestive organs). This effect on the nervous system extends beyond the digestive organs and helps reduce anxiety and overall stress (and who doesn't need that?).

In July, we will be offering a bitters class with some special partners! Stay tuned for news about that!

(1) Digestion, skin health, and the immune system are closely linked. 90% of the immune system is in the gut, and the skin is an organ of elimination- toxins that we ingest come out through the skin as well as the digestive tract.

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