Bitters and Your Belly
Lara Pacheco knows keenly the importance of bitters. She’s a clinical herbalist in NE Portland who sees many clients complaining of digestive aliments. The root of these maladies, and ultimately of all bodily disorders, is what happens in the gut. Lara and I sat down to talk about the essential chain of events hampered by the modern diet. Our conversation forms the substance of this article.
When you put something bitter in your mouth, pretty soon you’re salivating. A lot. This helps to start breaking down the food, makes it easier to chew, and helps to move it around the mouth. And another very important process is begun: the stomach is activated. When the food is finally swallowed, the stomach is ready to accept it and start its part of the process. This decreases the workload of the liver and the gall bladder down the road. Hormones that regulate digestive timing are signaled to release.Peristalsis begins, which moves food along the many stages of the digestive tract.Food begins to break down and free nutrients for absorption.
If a diet is low in bitters, it’s often high in rich foods, dairy, processed foods and simple carbohydrates. These are especially hard on the liver and gall bladder due to the extra steps needed to process them. If these organs aren’t being properly signaled to start working, this compounds the problem.
So, what happens when this process is stalled or not functioning as well as it should? Some effects make for an easy connection, like constipation and bloating. Other results are more nuanced: mood disturbances can start here; headaches are often caused by fat not getting digested properly. Many individuals experience hormonal imbalance and allergies.In reality, everything starts here: the holistic community holds that the gut is at root of all disorders. It’s well publicized in the wider culture that inflammation is at the bottom of many diseases. Where could that start? THE GUT, TOO! People spend a lot of time going on elimination diets to figure out what’s getting to them. That surely has value, but what about adding a single element that could make all the others work in tandem?
To thicken the plot, poor gut function can prevent certain compounds from being flushed from the body. Lack of bitters and a rich diet create an intestinal flora that is imbalanced, allowing an overpopulation of certain bacteria that break down estrogens and free them to recirculate in the body. Therefore, excess estrogens build up that should’ve been eliminated with waste.Combine that with the estrogen concentration in the environment at large (primarily from plastics and soy) and you’re heading straight for hormonal imbalance.
Another prevalent ailment today is too much hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the gut, often caused by stress. Did you know that having too little is equally common? Too little HCl can be caused by many things, including the lack of bitters. The stomach just doesn’t know what’s coming because the cascade begun by increased salivation never starts.
You can find these helpful bitters in leafy greens, spices like cumin, tea, and – of course – tincture bitters! It doesn’t matter if your bitters come in the form of a tincture or a dandelion pesto, both are beneficial.
What’s great about bitters in liquid form is that you can use whatever vehicle you please, and even shoot it straight from the dropper. Soda water, tea, coffee (yes!) – it doesn’t need to be a cocktail.
Try this liquor-free recipe and see what I mean:
1.5 oz Cucumber Ginger Syrup
4.5 oz unflavored soda water
10 drops PBP Aromatic Bitters
Ginger slice, ¼” thick
Gently stir first three ingredients over ice and strain into a coupe. Slit ginger slice and secure on rim.
Cucumber Ginger Syrup
1 medium cucumber, sliced
10 quarter-sized slices fresh ginger, about ¼” thick
1 cup lemon balm leaves, packed
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
Place first three ingredients in a large heatproof bowl. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally; remove when just to the boiling point. Pour over botanicals, cover and allow to steep for 2 hours. Strain and pour into a restaurant-style squeeze bottle for easy dispensing.