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 apparent that these remedies have a 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


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