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Bitter Medicines

May 26, 2010

Tags: Herbs, food, angelica, angostura bark, artichoke, Bitter Medicines, bitters, cassia, cinchona bark, dandelion, digestive problems, gentian, goldenseal, indigestion, orange peel, quinine, roots, sugar, sweeteners, vegetables, yarrow

Life was never supposed to be sweet. We ate bitters all the time, from prehistoric times, plucking green leaves right and left as we roamed the savannah, until only a few generations ago when the home-made herbal bitter (an alcoholic extraction of bitter herbs) was always brought out after a big meal.

But in our modern times, we think we deserve better than bitter – we like sweet above all other tastes - and consequently, digestive problems are increasing.

Bitters stimulate the appetite (not that we really need it – I always wonder why a hundred years ago loss of appetite was a major problem, and nowadays my patients rarely ever complain about it). Bitters increase digestive juices, thus helping to digest heavy meals. By digesting faster, we feel earlier relief in our overstuffed stomachs (for the same reason - to get relief after a too-big feast - a family walk after the big Sunday midday meal is a beloved practice in Europe).

Bitters shorten bowel transit time, alleviating constipation.

What goes into bitters? The recipes are often family, factory or monastery secret, but there are some staples like artichoke, dandelion, yarrow, cinchona bark (quinine), ginger, orange peel, cassia, angostura bark, and lots of bitter roots like angelica, gentian, goldenseal. The recipes are legion, and every country has their specialties.

It helps to have Swedish Bitters (or any bitter) at hand when indigestion strikes (beware – they all contain around forty percent of alcohol – some even more). However, incorporating more dark greens and roots into you food is equally - or more - important. And so is eliminating the sweet taste from our foods so predominant now. Don’t use sugar, don’t even use sweeteners – come back to the healthy bitters! Let your taste buds rediscover the real world of tastes.

In the long run, your life will be sweeter with bitters: more health, more joy, more sweet life.
Aspen eyes, by Peggy Peters

Iguazu Falls, by Xin Liu

Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. 2012, by Lolita Parker jr.

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