More Bitter Foods, Less Bitter Attitude

So, Let’s Talk Bitters

I must be candid and speak of my utter passion for bitters!  I also must say that I was extremely surprised at the reaction of my dear friends (not that I doubted them for a second), as I witnessed their growing love for bitters, as well.  This is all good and well, but you may be asking yourself, “What the heck are bitters… and what’s the big deal?”

BIG DEAL:

Have you ever been to a bar and someone offered you bitters and soda water to help relieve a stomach ache?  Or you may be familiar with Angostura bitters which are added (a few drops, mind you) to certain alcoholic drinks to add a certain depth to the flavor of a drink?  Before I learned about bitters, this was the only type of bitters I was familiar with… and I really had no interest in them at the time.

When I started traveling and learning about the cultures and cuisines of different countries,  I started getting schooled about bitters and their medicinal properties.  One of the first things I noticed was that almost every country in Europe had some form of bitters, or digestives, that they used almost DAILY,whether it was in the form of an aperitif before the meal (used to stimulate hunger), a bitter vegetable or herb in the meal (like dandelion or turmeric) or a digestive drink at the end of the meal (to aid in the circulation and digestion of fats).  When I took my first bitters drink in France, I was told that I would never like it because I was American and we only liked sweet or salty things.  Although it was true that I made a face at the bitterness, I soon learned to love it and, even more, rely on it for its digestive aid.

I then took many courses on healing herbs and, once again, was introduced to the medicinal properties of bitters and told numerous stories of the wealth of healing that the bitters give us.

I can remember one such story told to me that really made me a true believer.
“A lady and her husband moved to France one year to spend time abroad.  That year, they indulged in all the wonderful foods of France, like the creamy cheeses, the local wines, the pastries, as well as the incredible greens and salads that came from their local farm.  The lady had suffered from severe allergies most of her life  and noticed that her allergies completely disappeared the year she lived in France.  As soon as she moved back to San Diego, her symptoms returned.  So she started eating all the same foods that she ate in France thinking that the cause was the food change.  She even went as far as getting the same brands of cheese, breads, and wines that she ate there (she had that luxury living in California).  However, her symptoms continued.

One day, she remembered that there was one missing element that she hadn’t thought of that might be the missing link.  So she went to Whole Foods and bought some Dandelion Greens to put in her salad.  She had remembered that she ate dandelion greens almost daily in her salads.  Dandelion greens are very bitter and are eaten often in many French salads (many of us are more familiar with the bitter ENDIVE).  To her greatest surprise and delight, it took only a week to see a big difference in her allergies.  She is happy to report that her allergies are gone, and she says it all had to do with bitter greens.”

That story prompted me to go on a couple of missions for some bitters.  Not only bitter greens–like Dandelion, Belgium Endive, Chicory Root, etc.–but I also wanted to try the bitter herbs–like Gentian Root, Goldenseal, Angelica, Aloe Vera, Rhubarb, Swedish Bitters and the many other bitter herbs that make up most bitter formulas.  I set out to make the “bitters drink” that I had tried one time in Southern France (which was comprised of 40 different herbs), and mixed it with ginger ale.  I made my own version, and I started to really enjoy it after meals. Not only did I feel less full after a large meal, but my digestion worked so much stronger.  I also could literally feel my stomach working, and circulation was improving as well.  Bitters start working as soon as they enter your mouth.   We call them a sialogogue, which means it increases saliva, thus, increasing digestion.
One of my favorite tests to do in herb class was to eat a big meal, take a teaspoon of bitters (we generally used Gentian Root), and then notice how fast it would take me to feel hungry again.  Just as a side note: being hungry is a very good sign!  I find that we, as Americans, try to stave off hunger, but hunger is a sign of desire.  You will be hard pressed to find any Europeans that don’t like to be hungry.  Hunger for real food is synonymous with a hunger for life.  You may be surprised to know that the more real food we eat, alongside bitters, the more our metabolism improves.  This is where the French Paradox comes in.

“How can they eat the way they do and stay so thin?”

There are many answers to this question.
To sum it up–in my opinion:
1.) They are particular about the quality of their food.
2.) They eat only until they’re full… so that they can eat again when another tasty treat comes around (80% full method).
3.) They supplement with BITTERS.

WHAT DO BITTERS DO?

Treat loss of appetite (great aid in Anorexia)
Liver and Gallbladder Tonic
Aid Digestive Problems
Stimulate Taste buds
Promote Saliva and Digestive Juices
Treat Flatulence
Aid Peristalsis (movement in the intestines)
Treat Constipation
Increase Circulation
Increase bile (breakdown of fat)
Assist Seasonal Allergies
Purify the blood
Promote Sleep or Make you Alert (depending on what you need)
Strengthen the nerves
Speed wound healing
Strengthen and calm the digestive tract
Aid in skin problems (especially acne and rosacea)
My favorite Metabolism booster!
The list can go on…

HERBS AND FOODS THAT ACT AS BITTERS:

Dandelion Greens
Endive
Chicory Root
Broccoli Rabe
Radicchio
Arugula
Frisee
Kale
Rhubarb
Gentian Root
Angelica Root
Aloe (can be a mild laxative, so use wisely)
Goldenseal (used as a natural antibiotic, as well)
Senna leaves
Coffee
Carline Thistle leaves
Saffron
Turmeric
Myrrh
Dandelion Root or Leaf Tea (The root is used for Liver, and the leaf for Kidneys)
Orange and Lemon Peel (please use Organic only)
Rosemary
Barks
Ginseng
These are just a few, but they are some that are readily available to you (so now you have no excuse not to try them! 🙂

I will say that some bitter formulas like Swedish Bitters and Angostura, as well as other herbs such as Gentian Root and Goldenseal usually come in a mixture of grain alcohol both to preserve and release the potency.  You may choose to get them without alcohol or just eat the bitter plants, but the alcohol increases the potency of the bitter qualities.  The key is to taste the bitter, so do your best not to drown out the bitter taste with other ingredients.

Please note bitters may be contraindicated in ulcers, alcoholic syndrome or pregnancy.  Check with a specialist or your Doctor if you have any questions.

So, go ahead and explore the world of BITTERS!  It may take a little while to adjust your taste buds, but when you do, you may be pleasantly surprised to see how much your body thanks you!

Here’s to A Healthy Digestive Tract and a Happier Liver!

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