My first understanding of Bitters came while traveling in Europe many years ago. Dining in France, we were often asked if we would like to begin with an Aperitif. Not knowing what it was I began asking, “What is this custom all about?” The most popular aperitifs are Campari, Dubonnet, Lillet and Vermouth. The Aperitif is simply an alcohol cocktail typically infused with bitter herbs, roots or fruits. The Aperitif is intended to spark the appetite.
We have twenty-five bitter taste receptors and by starting or incorporating bitters into our meals we can stimulate our digestive fluids (acids, bile, enzymes, gastric juices, hormones, saliva etc.) which aid and prepare the body in the digestion process.
Some of the herbs you may find in a bitter recipe include: air potato, alfalfa, aloe, American and Asian ginseng, angelica, anise, anise hyssop, asparagus, balmony, barberry, bay leaf, bearberry, blackberry lily, black cohosh, blessed thistle, blue cohosh, boneset, bottle gourd, burdock, caraway, cascara sagrada, centaury, chamomile, chickweed, chicory, Chinese foxglove, coffee, coriander, corydalis, cranberry, creat, dandelion, dogwood, dong quai, Dutchman’s breeches, Echinacea, eclipta, eleuthero, ephedra, fennel, feverfew, forsythia, fo-ti, fringetree, gentian, gotu kola, ginger, globe artichoke, goldenseal, goldthread, hawthorn, hops, horehound, horseradish, horsetail, huang qi, Indian valerian, juniper, lesser periwinkle, licorice, magnolia vine, mate, may apple, marjoram, milk thistle, mugwort, nandina, neem, nettle, Oregon grape, pawpaw, peppermint, phyllanthus, pot marigold, redroot sage, rhubarb, rosemary, rose-of-Sharon, rue, saw palmetto, self-heal, shatavari, sida, skullcap, southernwood, sweet annie, sweet cicely, tansy, tulip tree, tulsi, turmeric, vervain, watercress, wild yam, willow, wolfberry, woodruff, wormwood, yellow dock, yellow root, yerba santa, and yucca.
This is a very easy recipe to make your own bitters at home. Herbs are available at Mountain Rose Herbs.
2 parts Dandelion Root
1 part Fennel Seed
1 part Fenugreek Seed
½ part Ginger Root
½ part Orange Peel
100 proof Vodka or Brandy
Glass mason jar and dark dropper bottles
Using a clean glass jar add the herb mixture; fill the jar with vodka or brandy completely covering the herbs (dry herbs do expand and should not exceed1/3 to 1/2 of the jar). Shake jar daily for 4-6 weeks (long it gets stronger), after time has passed, use a washed muslin cloth to strain the herb mixture, bottle the remaining liquid in a dark glass dropper bottle. Label with herbs, alcohol, date and your initials. Begin u0sing you “bitters before meals”.
If you’d like to read more about Bitters I suggest the following material:
Food & Wine, Jim Nelson. Accessed December 20, 2012. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/spirits-the-art-of-the-aperitif
The Medicine Woman, Kiva Rose: Accessed December 20, 2012, http://bearmedicineherbals.com/terms-of-the-trade-4-bitters.html
HerbCraft.com, Jim McDonald: Accessed December 20, 2012, http://www.herbcraft.org/bitters.pdf
Green Farmacy.com, James Duke and Helen Lowe Metzmen: Accessed December 20, 2012, http://www.thegreenfarmacygarden.com
Green, James. The Male Herbal: Health Care for Men and Boys. California: The Crossing Press, 1991.