In the late winter or early spring, it is traditional to use stimulating bitters. What exactly are bitters and why do people ingest them?
The word “bitters” is used to describe herbs that are bitter to the taste. We all know what a bitter food tastes like. Besides indicating the taste of the herb, bitters also indicate a group of herbs that are stimulating and supportive to the gastrointestinal tract.
What Bitters Do:
This category of herbs are useful as more than a simple spring tonic. Bitters have a supportive effect upon the digestion; they increase the tone of the gastric mucosa and enhance the digestive organ’s blood supply, which facilitates overall digestion. Bitter plant constituents start their work by locally stimulating the bitter sensory response of taste buds in the mouth and throat. Bitters also increase digestive secretions from the stomach, pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
When Bitters Are Used:
Bitters are indicated for sluggish or improper digestion when there are indications of poor digestive activity or enzymatic activity. This would include undigested food in the stool, gastrointestinal pain not due to more serious conditions, spasms, belching, and gas. Bitters are used to stimulate appetite, to relieve constipation, gas, heartburn, and nausea. They are also helpful in gastroparesis, for anorexics, people not producing enough hydrochloric acid (HCL), or people needing their general digestion stimulated. Often the elderly benefit from bitters.
Specific Things Bitters Do:
• Stimulate the natural self-protecting and healing mechanisms of the gut wall.
• Bitters increase the excitability of the sympathetic nervous system. Gentian, and wormwood have been shown to elicit cephalic responses via the sympathetic system, increasing peripheral vascular resistance. This shunts blood from the periphery to the internal organs of digestion.
• Wormwood has been shown to increase levels of pancreatic enzymes. Other bitters are thought to do the same.
• Bitters stimulate the activity of the liver and the gallbladder.
How They Are Used:
The best effects are seen with long-term use of bitters. They are usually ingested before meals in small amounts.
For More Information on Bitters:
For an in-depth look at bitters, check out the "Digestive System" chapter in my new book called "Herbal ABC's - The Foundation of Herbal Medicine". There is a give-away of this new book taking place on my Facebook page. All I ask is that you take the time to give an honest review of it on Amazon.com See the link to the Facebook page on the right column of this blog.