My 11-year-old son would argue that all herbs are bitter and taste like something intended to poison him. His perspective is clouded by the fact that his dear old dad used to try out different vile-tasting herbal tinctures on him during naturopathic training. The bitter taste associated with many herbs (particularly the root or rhizome portion) is the basis for using them to stimulate digestion. When a bitter substance hits your tongue, taste buds tell the brain to signal the mouth to produce more saliva, and the stomach to release more acid to help break down food. Some research on bitters also suggests a stimulating effect on the pancreas and increased production of digestive enzymes and bile flow.
The bottom line is that one feels hungrier and digests better after consuming an herbal bitter. If your digestion is sluggish due to poor production of stomach acid, you'll find bitters particularly useful. If you notice a lot of bloating and gas after eating a meal high in protein, try taking an herbal bitter immediately before eating. Stomach acid production also has a tendency to decrease as we age. Herbal bitters are frequently prescribed for elderly persons who produce less stomach acid and experience sluggish digestion.
Commonly prescribed herbal, digestive bitters include:
- Gentian root and rhizome
- Dandelion root
- Yellow dock
- Blessed thistle
- Barberry bark