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Bitters….Medicinal uses not just adult beverages.

Bitter herbs and foods have been used for thousands of years to treat a huge variety of health issues. But as many of you may have noticed with some of our newest health diseases and scares, we don’t always have the answer in modern medicine. The answer may be just wait and see! The wait and see approach can not only feel miserable but can be scary. For some recent cases, we turn back to the medicines of old to help get to the root cause, not just bandaid a symptom. There are times to use the bandaid effect too.

What defines an item as a Bitter?

A bitter is made from the plants bark, leaves, roots or flower and is of bitter-tasting they are extracted usually in alcohol-based or water extract and have been used medicinally since ancient times.

What conditions are commonly treated with bitters?

Historically digestion was the main condition treated. We have now found other helpful benefits for the liver, gallbladder and blood sugar regulation.

Here are some of the bitter herbs and conditions they treat:

  1. Andrographis (“King of Bitters”) Andrographis paniculata: Enhances immune system function, stimulates bile production, protects the liver from toxins, counters the damaging effects of free radicals and helps normalize blood sugar.

  2. Dandelion Taraxacum offinale: Flexibility of healing and protecting the liver, female reproduction, high blood pressure, digestive ailments, stomach related headaches, arthritis and helpful in treating varicose veins.

  3. Burdock Arcticum lappa: Stimulates the natural flow of lymphatic fluid and helps the liver move toxins out of the body, anti-inflammatory for arthritis, has some cancer inhibiting effects on tumors and is being researched in the following cancer types; breast and pancreatic.

  4. Schisandra Schisandra chinensis: A powerful liver restorative and lung tonic with support of the immune system especially against viruses. Helpful with viral hepatitis, fatigue, insomnia, asthma and night sweats.

  5. Artichoke Cynara scolymus: Liver protectant and help revive a sluggish liver, prevent gall stones improve fatty liver disease, stimulate bile production, irritable bowel, crohn's and dysbiosis.

  6. Gentian Gentiana Lutea: Helps promote digestion and stomach emptying for gastroparesis patients, can prevent gastric ulcers but not to be used in acute ulcers.

  7. Chamomile Matricaria recutita: A generalized anti-inflammatory of the nervous system and helps general nervousness, helps with canker sores and ulcers and will soothe gas and bloating.

  8. Chicory Cichorium intybus: Has a mild laxative effect, anti-inflammatory, helps support the liver, healthy cardiovascular function, blood pressure regulation and relieves constipation.

  9. Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris: Helpful in digesting properly, protective to the liver and helps regulate periods and appetite.

  10. Valerian Valeriana officinalis: Used for stress, anxiety, attention deficit, gastrointestinal cramping, menstrual cramps, shingles, backaches and insomnia.

  11. Wormwood Artemisa absinthe: Strong bitter component that stimulates the liver and the gallbladder functioning. Cannot be taken with seizure medicine or heart medications.

  12. Milk Thistle Silybum marinanum: Helpful in conditions where there is inflammation of the liver, spleen and kidneys. Helpful in patients with chronic or acute hepatitis, bile duct dysfunction.

  13. Blessed Thistle Cnicus benedictus: Helpful in cases of diarrhea, coughing and swelling in the body.

  14. Neem tree Antelaea azadirachta: Helpful in reducing tooth pain and ulcerations in the digestive tract and is antimicrobial, some say it can even prevent pregnancy but not an approved birth control method.

  15. Buckbean Menyanthes trifoliata: Known to increase digestive juices of the mouth and stomach, will improve appetite and help with indigestion.

  16. Yarrow Achillea millefolium: Helpful in chronic nasal and sinus congestion, useful in the intial stages of colds and fevers, bleeding hemorrhoids, urinary tract function, vaginitis and amenorrhea.

  17. Common Sorel Rumex acetosa: High vitamin C and A herb helps in immune health, reproduction, vision and helps fight infections.

  18. Angelica Angelica archangelica: Wonderful digestive tonic helps with colic, gas and burping, helps with gastric and pancreatic secretions, helps expel placenta and excellent for bronchitis.

While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a start in educating you about bitters. I often blend several in a tincture for patients with digestive issues and have them take it 10 minutes before a meal. You will also notice the wonderful protective effects on the liver. We have helped many patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome. Please consult an herbalist or functional medicine practitioner to use herbs for your health.

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