What are Bitters?
Ever heard of bitters before? Bitters are bitter herbs infused into alcohol and used as a digestive aid, to be taken before or after a meal. This is a well-known traditional practice in Europe but it is just another one of those herbal secrets that got lost over the generations after moving to the “new world”. The two times I remember hearing about bitters are when we were traveling, once in Cuba and another time in Germany. Cuba has their famous Mojito drink and I sure enjoyed them while there. I remember our bartender telling me the recipe and saying bitters… but I was unaware and he didn’t know if it was a different word in English so we left it at that. Few years later, we had a large meal of a hamburger in Hamburg (ha!) and my German friends ordered us all a shot of Jägermeister at the end to help with the digestion. I could hardly stomach that to be honest. But now I have researched it and learned the science behind it. Yes even Jägermeister a considered a bitter loaded with different herbs, and I bet you know of this drink.
A Herbal Practice Lost in the Generations
So basically, bitter herbs help to increase and stimulate digestive enzymes and bile production, which both aids digestion and increases the absorption of nutrients. Do we eat many bitter foods in our normal diet? Not really… because they taste bitter! Our ancestors likely had their palates accustomed to different tastes than our sweet greedy taste buds now. Even food has likely evolved over time to be less bitter and more appealing to us. So now that we know bitter foods are good for us, and sound pretty necessary to me, I decided to try making my own herbal infused bitters!
How I Made It
The easiest bitter plant I could wild harvest? Dandelion root. I used my trowel and dug it up, washed it well and chopped it into fine pieces. Burdock is also a common bitter plant but I don’t have this growing near me (that I can find yet!) so I chose to pair it with ginger root that I bought. I added some orange, lemon & lime peel and a cinnamon stick. I infused it into high proof alcohol (I used a locally brewed grain alcohol) and let it infuse for 6 weeks. The clear alcohol darkened quite a bit but definitely still smelled strong!
To use you can drink up to one ounce before or after a meal to help aid in digestion or calm an upset stomach. Or you can combine it into sparkling water with some orange juice.
Making A Tasty Mojito
I tested a few drops on my tongue and it was actually pretty good. I decided to try and replicate my Cuban Mojito. I crushed fresh peppermint from my garden herb box, added a dash of cane sugar, squeezed half a lime, ounce of white rum and club soda. I added a tbsp of bitters and ice. Voila! It was really good! The bitters definitely deepened the flavour and took it up a notch.
Maybe you regularly drink bitters, or have made them yourself. Or maybe you just learned something new! Just another fun herbal experiment in the kitchen that turned out great for me!
My Bitters Recipe:
2 tbsp dandelion root
2 tbsp ginger root
¼ orange peel
½ lime peel
½ lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
Place in small mason canning jar and fill to top with vodka or other high proof neutral spirit.
Let infuse for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dark place then strain out the herbs using a fine-mesh sieve or cloth bag.