Your body naturally produces acid, bile, and enzymes to help break down what you eat so you can absorb nutrients, but there are also some times our digestive system needs a little support. In comes: bitter herbs — or more popularly known as bitters.

You may have noticed them mentioned in cocktails, but these concoctions were originally used as a digestion aid.

Shown to facilitate stomach acid, certain bitter herbs can help make the digestion process smoother on your body.

So if you’re feeling a little uncomfortable around the belt (you know: bloating, gas, indigestion, constipation — which can be a result of anything from stress to age, overeating, or poor diet), bitters might give your sluggish system a jolt.

Notable digestion-enhancing bittering agents include gentian root, dandelion, wormwood, and burdock. We put together a recipe that you can make at home for digestive support.

Bitters recipe:

  • 1 ounce dried gentian root
  • 1/2 ounce dried dandelion root
  • 1/2 ounce dried wormwood
  • 1 tsp. dried orange peel
  • 1/2 tsp. dried ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seed
  • 8 ounces alcohol (recommended: 100 proof vodka or SEEDLIP’s Spice 94, a nonalcoholic option)

Instructions:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar and pour alcohol on top.
  2. Seal tightly and store the bitters in a cool, dark place.
  3. Let the bitters infuse until the desired strength is reached, about 2-4 weeks. Shake the jars regularly (about once per day).
  4. When ready, strain the bitters through a muslin cheesecloth or coffee filter. Store the strained bitters in an airtight container at room temperature.

To use: Take a few drops of this digestive bitters 15-20 minutes before or after your meal, taken straight or mixed into water.

Q:

Are there any concerns or health reasons someone shouldn’t be taking these bitters?

A:

Stimulating stomach acids isn’t advisable with acid reflux, ulcers, or other gastric conditions. As with any diagnosed digestive disorder, don’t use bitters as a replacement for medical treatment or in addition to a prescribed medical therapy.

Only use for prevention and for acute situations, and always seek a medical professional’s advice before initiating any new home or natural remedy, especially with children, or during pregnancy and lactation. Also, if alcohol is an issue, try an alcohol-free version.

Katherine Marengo, LDN, RDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. When she’s not in the kitchen, Tiffany enjoys yoga, hiking, traveling, organic gardening, and hanging out with her corgi, Cocoa. Visit her at her blog or on Instagram.