Herbs & Oils

Bitter Herbs And Herbal Teas For Healthy Digestion

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Digestion takes place from the moment we chew our food and doesn’t end until the protein, fats, carbohydrates, and micronutrients are absorbed. If any part of the digestive system fails, malabsorption occurs, and the body suffers.

Without proper digestion, none of the food we eat (except with the eating of simple sugars) would be absorbed, and we would lack the necessary macronutrients and micronutrients essential for cellular growth, cellular energy, and fuel for the body.

Bitters For Digestive Health

In France, it is commonplace to start a meal with an apéritif of bitters. When the bitter taste hits the more than 5000 taste buds on the tongue, it stimulates a set of reactions in the neuroendocrine system known as the “bitter reflex” where the salivary glands signal the stomach to begin secreting juices, and the brain lets the digestive system know that food is on the way.
The entire process is mediated by the flow of a hormone known as hydrochloric acid that helps the gallbladder and liver secrete bile and pancreatic enzymes, which are vital in the proper digestion of food.

The bitter reflex supports and promotes the best functioning of all digestive organs. Coincidentally, bitter herbs are also useful for cleaning the blood, kidneys, urine, and digestive system of toxins.

They are packed with biochemicals that include flavonoids, isothiocyanates, alkaloids, catechins, glucosinolates, tannins, terpenes, phenols, isoflavones and saponins that contribute to the bitter taste.

Health Benefits of Bitter Herbs

Help the body absorb nutrients by improving digestion

  • Bitters cleanse and detox the body of toxins by helping the body to eliminate wastes from the digestive tract and support the liver’s natural detox pathways by way of the sulfur-based compounds bitters contain.
  • Boost metabolism! Green tea, for example, was found in one study, as reported in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition to increase metabolism by 4% over 24 hours. Green tea also inhibits the absorption of fat, supports healthy blood sugar levels, and reduces appetite.
  • Boost immunity and fight free radicals. Bitters are nutrient dense foods, which include a wide variety of antioxidants, folate, vitamin K, and various phytochemicals.
  • Can help with managing cholesterol, detox the blood, improve metabolism and balance hormones in the body.
  • Help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Boost absorption of fat-soluble vitamins D, A, E, and K.
  • Balance the taste buds
  • Help control the appetite
  • Curb a sweet tooth
  • Soothe gas and bloating
  • Relieve heartburn
  • Alleviate sour stomach and nausea
  • Aids to ease constipation and regulate bowel movements


List of Bitter Herbs

1. Hepatoprotective Herbs

Repairs and guards the liver against harmful toxins being harmed by toxins.

Hepatoprotectants Herbs Include:

  • Parsley
  • Burdock Root
  • Ginger
  • Dandelion Root
  • Artichoke
  • Beet Greens

2. Cholagogues

Increase the release and flow of bile from the gall bladder that plays a critical role in the digestive process. Cholagogues also have a laxative effect due to that bile production, as bile is the body’s naturally produced laxative.

Cholagogues Herbs Include:

  • Turmeric
  • Milk Thistle
  • Aloe
  • Dandelion
  • Gentiana
  • Ginger
  • Goldenseal
  • Milk Thistle
  • Olive (Olea Europaea)
  • Peppermint (Mentha Piperita)
  • Turmeric
  • Vervain
  • Wild Yam

3. Dandelion Herb

The Dandelion contains high levels of vitamin C, bioflavonoids, vitamin B2, B6, and folate. It is also rich in iron, zinc, and potassium. Dandelions promote healthy digestion, reduce inflammation, and support the elimination of toxins. Add some of these flavorful leaves over pasta or to any salad.

4. Parsley

Parsley has three times more vitamin c than oranges and contains high levels of chlorophyll. Vitamin C plays a critical role in healthy immunity, but parsley also contains other vital antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin that promote eye health. The bitterness in parsley stimulates the digestive system before a meal and ensures that you feel satisfied after that meal is consumed.

5. Cilantro

Cilantro, as well as being helpful in digestion, is a heavy metal detoxifier as it contains phytonutrients and chlorophyll, both of which aid in the purification of blood, liver, and kidneys.

6. Ginger

Ginger has been used for hundreds of years and is well known to reduce intestinal gas, nausea, stomach upset, improving gut motility and soothing the intestinal tract. Ginger also promotes bile production to aid in healthy digestion.

7. Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a potent anti-inflammatory compound. Often used in herbal medicine, curcumin helps detox the liver and has an array of other health benefits.

8. Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is commonly used in herbal medicine to boost the healthy functioning of the liver, kidneys, and the gastrointestinal system.

9. Rapini

Rapini is an Italian cooking favorite and is one of the strongest tasting bitters, so definitely something to add to your menu once you have been acclimated to bitters. Works well when sautéed with lots of garlic and a little olive oil and salt, adding lemon juice will counteract some of the bitterness.

10. Other Bitter Herbs Include:

  • Gentiana
  • Wormwood
  • Horehound
  • Goldenseal
  • Vervain (Verbena Officinalis)
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
  • Chicory
  • Aloe Vera
  • Chamomile
  • Yarrow
  • Peppermint
  • Echinacea
  • Basil

How To Use Bitters

  • Add them to a salad before your meal. They do well when blended with dark leafy greens, such as fresh spinach or arugula. Use a light vinaigrette dressing or only lemon juice.
  • Many of the herbs can be infused into teas.
  • Eat a small piece of fresh ginger or marinated ginger (sushi style) before or after a meal.
  • Many bars, lounges, and restaurants will have Angostura bitters, a very complex concoction taken as a drink. Just one shot is enough before a meal, or when you overeat, as you will find that just a little bit will markedly speed up your digestion and you will feel great in no time.
  • In tonics and tinctures, pre-made commercial products are available that offer all the benefits of bitters along with the convenience of being able to avoid looking for the herbs.

Where To Find Bitters

Finding quality bitter herbs in conventional American supermarkets can be difficult. Most of the produce found in stores have been intentionally bred to eliminate bitterness. While these practices may please the palates of consumers, they also represent a tragic limitation of nutritional value.

Its bitter flavor can be obtained with the more commonly available arugula, cilantro, parsley, ginger and dark chocolate.

Whole Foods stores are a good place to look for bitter herbs. Herbal stores are also good resources to search for items like dandelion, milk thistle, wormwood, horehound, and goldenseal.

The easiest way to get your bitter herbs is in supplemental herbal tonics or tinctures. Bitter tonics can be found at various health food stores and of course on the Internet.

Look for organic and non-alcoholic products. A simple spray of such tonics on the tongue will offer you a great digestive aide straight from nature!

Herbal Teas

Some of the most common conditions that millions of people in the US and more in the world suffer from daily are acid reflux, stomach aches, bloating, digestive problems, and heartburn.

The causes vary, sometimes it is just a matter of eating too fast, too much, or the wrong food, while at other times it may be due to some food sensitivity.

No matter their cause, these digestive conditions are at the very least an irritation or a minor discomfort or at the very worst incredibly painful and debilitating.

It is important to note that if you have ongoing gastrointestinal problems, you should see you doctor to rule out any of the more severe conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease. If you find that you suffer from stomach aches and heartburn on a regular basis, your diet might need a makeover, and a nutritionist can help with that.

Disease. If you find that you suffer from stomach aches and heartburn on a regular basis, your diet might need a makeover, and a nutritionist can help with that.

For the occasional gastrointestinal nuisance, herbal teas can be a great all-natural remedy that is readily available for both long-term and short-term relief.

Ginger Tea

The gastrointestinal benefits of ginger have been known for centuries in herbal medicine, and modern research has proven ginger to be a great aid in digestive health.

One review published in Food & Function in June of 2013 stated that the ginger root has immense value in treating digestive ailments mainly due to its high levels of antioxidants that fight destructive free radicals in the stomach. Another study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology in April 2005 found that ginger can help ease pregnancy-related morning sickness and nausea.

Ginger tea, which is often used in herbal medicine practices, is a pleasant and tasty way to get this medicine from nature to boost and promote your digestive health.

How To Make Ginger Tea

Boil fresh ginger root, crush it up, and put into a tea strainer or tea ball.

There are also ready-made tea mixtures available at health food stores.

Green Tea

Green tea contains polyphenols, and while it comes from the same plant as black tea, it is much less processed and contains high levels of digestion-friendly catechin that black tea lacks.

Catechin has been proved in at least one study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry in 2005 to increase the activity of pepsin, which is a digestive enzyme that breaks down proteins in the stomach.

In general, green tea holds many health benefits in general and has been shown in numerous studies to help with weight loss.

How To Make Green Tea

Brew green tea fresh using green tea leaves, or if you choose to buy green tea in bags or pre-prepared ensure that there is no added sugar, preservatives or flavorings. Freshly brewed right from the leaves will yield the best results for digestion and health overall.

Senna Tea

Senna tea is used in herbal medicine to cleanse the digestive symptom and constipation due to its well-known laxative properties.

Senna tea can be purchased from reputable herb stores and online.

Be sure to follow package instructions in brewing since a too strong brew can cause cramps.

Chai Tea

Chai tea contains a blend of pepper, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon and is cited by various experts as being beneficial for digestion. The spices it contains have been shown to relieve gas, bloating, stomach cramps, nausea, and indigestion. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, ginger helps relieve upset stomach and nausea.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile is one of the most well known and widely used herbs in herbal medicine for a variety of purposes, and its reputation as a stomach aid rivals that of ginger and peppermint.

Chamomile is known to alleviate colic, gas, gastrointestinal irritation and can help calm an ulcer.

Freshly brewed chamomile tea also helps soothe the stomach, and relax the stomach muscles helping food to pass easier through the intestines and therefore makes for the perfect post-meal digestion aid.

Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea made from peppermint leaves (not the same as the candy) is another widely-used digestive health superstar, and University of Maryland Medical Center reports that peppermint helps soothe the stomach and promote and improve the flow of bile that is integral in the digestive process in the small intestine.

Healthy bile production and flow promote the passing of food through the stomach quickly. Peppermint is also known to alleviate gas, bloating, IBS, and slow digestion.

How To Make Peppermint Tea

  • Get dried peppermint leaves either online or at your local herb shop, or use fresh leaves when available.
  • Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried leaves or 1 tablespoon of fresh leaves to 1 cup of hot water and let soak for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Drink first thing in the morning to regulate digestion throughout the day or after meals.


While all of these are natural remedies that come from botanical sources are generally safe, it is important to consult with your doctor before using any herbal treatments as some conflict with certain medications. In addition, not all herbs are safe for use during pregnancy.


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