Recently on "Whole Living," I spoke with Jovial King (yes that's her real name), herbalist and founder/formulator of Urban Moonshine, a family-owned company based in Burlington, Vermont, that specializes in organic herbs, tonics, tinctures, and...bitters!
I'm a fan of bitters, and have been drinking the standard Angostura in tonic with lime for years and years. And those of you who like a dash or two of bitters in your favorite cocktail know that you like what it does to a good drink. But what you may not know is that bitters are great for digestion (which is why you may find yourself served with a bitter-tasting aperitif or digestif--one to kickstart and prep the digestion for what's coming, and the other to help ease it on the other end of a meal).
What Bitters Are Good For
King explained also that while "bitter" is not usually preferred by the American palate (which prefers sweet and salty above all else), we actually used to eat a lot more bitter-tasting foods in our diet 100 years ago. But we might be well served to bring it back into our diets--which you can do not just with bottled bitters, but by adding bitter greens and herbs and herbal teas (like dandelion tea) into your daily meals.
And the key with bitters is TASTING them. Digestion starts in the mouth, King explained, and so the response your mouth, tongue, and salivary glands have to bitters is part of how it works its magic--signaling to the body that it's time to perk up the digestion.
For those of us who like our bitters, you know it's not exactly convenient to tote around a bottle--which is why I'm so into the little purse spray--so you can keep bitters in your pocket, for anytime you're feeling a bit bloated or just ate a little too much. When I know I'm going to have a heavy meal, I'll even do a spritz or two before I eat.
Below, King shares a recipe for making your OWN bitters--all you need are the bitter herbs and vodka (the alcohol extracts the properties from the herb so you can digest them). She suggests steeping the herbs separately, however, so you can adjust the flavor accordingly, as some are way stronger than others.
DIY Bitters Recipe
2 parts Dandelion Root
2 parts Burdock Root
1/2 part Orange peel
dash Gentian Root
1/4 part Ginger Root
5 small ball jars and an Organic Vodka of choice
Directions: Steep each herb separately in vodka and let them sit for 3 weeks. Press away the herb material then blend.
You can also add in flavorings of your choice to mix it up a bit, for example Orange, Chocolate, Vanilla.
For more info, check out urbanmoonshine.com
Terri Trespicio is senior features editor at Whole Living magazine and the host of "Whole Living" on Martha Stewart Living Radio, which airs every day at 10a East / 7a West on Sirius 112 / XM 157. Follow her on twitter @TerriT.