“You are what you digest”
Digestive Bitters - “You are what you digest”
The use of herbal bitters has been an integral part of almost every cultural tradition in the world. Used as an aperitif to stimulate gastric juices, these mixtures tonify the digestive apparatus in preparation for mealtime. Individuals who have trouble with flatulent dyspepsia—gas, burping, bloating and indigestion—will benefit from this formula. In addition, this combination wonderfully stimulates agnivardhana – the Ayurvedic term for digestive “fire”, a quality that diminishes with age.
The appropriate rule of thumb may not so much be “you are what you eat”—as important as it is—but rather, “you are what you digest”. Vibrant health is achieved by a variety of means. Among the most important of these is good digestion.
Extensively taken in Europe—from which we best know it—herbal bitters enhance digestion and assimilation by stimulating the taste receptors on our tongue. With many nationalities, it is common practice to consume bitters before a meal, especially if it is apt to include heavy, fatty foods. Bitters can also be taken after the fact, if you find you have overeaten. The bitter taste of the herbs—hence the name of this tonic—is essential to their good effects. The bitterness increases the flow of bile, which supports both digestion and the body’s natural cleansing processes.
Herbal bitters are an extremely valuable aid in maintaining good health. By enhancing secretions of the liver, pancreas, stomach, and small intestine, they revitalize a whole range of digestive functions, providing rich enzyme catalysts, which improve nutrient absorption. As well, the herbs in our Canadian Bitters formula protect the liver from toxins.
Further indications include cholesterol build-up, hyperlipidaemia, constipation, digestive distress, and sluggish peristalsis. Sluggish elimination is often the result of reduced secretions by the digestive organs and small intestine.
The following is a brief explanation of the individual herbs and the rationale for their use:
Globe artichoke – Herbalist Kerry Bone classes globe artichoke as a bitter tonic, useful for dyspepsia and its associated symptoms, such as constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, belching, and fat intolerance. One clinical trial confirmed improved digestion, noting that artichoke improved the assimilation of fat due to insufficient bile secretion. ((Saenz RT et al. Choleretic activity and biliary elimination of lipids and bile acids induced by an artichoke leaf extract in rats. Phytomedicine 9 (2002): 687–93.)) ((Holtmann G et al. Efficacy of artichoke leaf extract in the treatment of patients with functional dyspepsia: a six-week placebo-controlled, double-blind, multicentre trial. Ailment Pharmacol Ther 18 (2003): 1099-105.))
Dandelion – Eclectic physicians like John M. Scudder, M.D. praised this lowly weed for its “stimulant influence upon the entire gastro-intestinal tract”. ((Trojanova I et al. The bifidogenic effect of Taraxacum officinale root. Fitoterapia 75.7–8 (2004): 760–3.))
Gentian – With its unparalleled bitterness, Gentian represents the standard in digestives. No doubt this inspired herbalist Mrs. Maude Grieve to state emphatically that gentian is “unrivalled as a stomachic tonic…” Eclectic physicians Harvey Wickes Felter, M.D. and John Uri Lloyd, Pharm. D., Ph. D. explain further that gentian should be used “where the powers of life are depressed and recovery depends upon (the) ability to assimilate food.” ((Mycopathologia. 2010 Apr;169(4):279-85. Epub 2009 Nov 24. The effect of gentian violet on virulent properties of Candida albicans. Ying S, Qing S, Chunyang L.))
Fennel – The Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia lists dyspepsia as a traditional indication for fennel.
Chamomile – “As a popular remedy, (chamomile) may be thought of as the European counterpart of ginseng,” writes Varro Tyler, as quoted by herbalist Steven Foster. “The Germans describe it as alles zutraut – ‘capable of anything’,” Tyler adds. The great German herbalist and physician Rudolph Fritz Weiss, M.D. asserts that “patients with chronic stomach complaints would greatly benefit from” chamomile. ((Becker B, Kuhn U, Hardewig-Budny B. Double-blind, randomized evaluation of clinical efficacy and tolerability of an apple pectin-chamomile extract in children with unspecific diarrhea. Arzneimittelforschung 56.6 (2006): 387–93.)) ((Mol Med Report. 2010 Nov 1;3(6):895-901. Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Srivastava JK, Shankar E, Gupta S.))
Turmeric – Classified as a stomachic in Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric is traditionally used for poor digestion. In the Western tradition, turmeric is additionally classed as an aromatic digestive stimulant. ((Bundy R et al. Turmeric extract may improve irritable bowel syndrome symptomology in otherwise healthy adults: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med 10.6 (2004): 1015–18.)) ((Chainani-Wu N. Safety and anti-inflammatory activity of curcumin: a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa). J Altern Complement Med 9.1 (2003): 161–8.))
Burdock root – Eclectic physicians used burdock to aid digestion. Finley Ellingwood, M.D., for example, writes that, “Its influence upon the mucous membranes of the stomach encourages normal … secretion and promotes digestion.” ((J Pharm Pharmacol. 2008 Jun;60(6):795-801. Gastroprotective activity of the chloroform extract of the roots from Arctium lappa L. Dos Santos AC, Baggio CH, Freitas CS, Lepieszynski J, Mayer B, Twardowschy A, Missau FC, dos Santos EP, Pizzolatti MG, Marques MC.))
Black walnut – The hulls are very bitter in taste. Alma Hutchens explains that black walnut hulls are “highly extolled as a remedy in the treatment of bilious and cramp colic.” She adds “flatulence” as the clinical indication.
Cardamom – The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia gives “flatulent dyspepsia” as a specific indication for cardamom. Cardamom is pleasant tasting and, as a “warming” herb, counteracts the “cooling” nature of bitter digestives. ((J Ethnopharmacol. 2008 Feb 12;115(3):463-72. Epub 2007 Oct 22. Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom. Gilani AH, Jabeen Q, Khan AU, Shah AJ.))
Ginger – In most traditional systems of medicine, including the Ayurvedic and the Chinese, ginger is standard as an aid for the digestion. ((Ghayur MN, Gilani AH. Pharmacological basis for the medicinal use of ginger in gastrointestinal disorders. Dig Dis Sci 50.10 (2005): 1889–97.)) ((Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. Ginger: an herbal medicinal product with broad anti inflammatory actions. J Med Food 8.2 (2005): 125–32.))
American calamus – Eclectic physicians favoured this medicine for “cases of flatulent colic, atonic dyspepsia, (and) feebleness of the digestive organs”.
In a base of alcohol.
Combination rationale: Virtually all the herbs in this formula aid digestion in one way or other, each acting in its own unique manner to create a complementary symphony of benefits. In traditional Chinese medicine, herbs are classified as to effect. In other words, they can have heating or cooling, moistening or drying (etc.) properties. As many of the digestive herbs are cooling in effect, we have added herbs with warming properties, which means that this formula can be safely taken over the long term without the harm of imbalance.
Administration: (adults) take 1-1.5 ml (30-45 drops) three times daily in a little water before meals.
Contra-indications and Cautions: Consult a health care practitioner prior to use if you have been diagnosed with a medical condition or if you are taking prescription medications. Do not take this product if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Do not use this product if you have an allergy to members of the Asteraceae or the Umbelliferae families of plants. Do not use if you have acute stomach irritation, inflammation, or stomach ulcers. Reduce dosage or discontinue use if you experience a hypersensitivity reaction.