What Are Bitters?
Bitters stimulate and tonify the digestive apparatus in preparation for mealtime, providing an aid to people who have trouble with dyspepsia—gas, burping, bloating, and indigestion. The use of herbal bitters has been an integral part of almost every cultural tradition in the world. In the early 16th century, for example, Venetian monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli invented the aperitif we know as Benedictine. It started as an ‘elixir’ to revive tired Benedictine monks and was also claimed to cure malaria.1
Bitters and The Perennial Wisdom of Ayurveda
Optimize Your Agni
Ancient Ayurveda agrees with modern Naturopathy, which holds that loss of digestive fire—“Agni” in Ayurveda—is a factor that plays a role in the onset of all diseases.2,3
Bitters act indirectly as tonics to the whole system, gentian being the quintessential digestive bitter. According to the Eclectics, who formed a prominent and distinctive school of American medicine in the 19th and early 20th centuries, relying heavily on botanical remedies for their healing practices, gentian is best used “where the powers of life are depressed and recovery depends upon (the) ability to assimilate food.”.4
Ayurveda holds that “all metabolic processes” are dependent on healthy Agni.5 Thus, among other things, diminished Agni is a root cause of weakness, fatigue, and the accumulation of waste products in the body.
“Bitters Deficiency Syndrome”
This is a term used by Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald to highlight the importance he places on bitters. Quoting James Green (The Male Herbal), McDonald suggests bitters deficiency as a major factor in not only digestive issues but also hormone and metabolic imbalances, migraine headache, liver and gall bladder dysfunction, diabetes, and numerous other conditions. He suggests that bitters are especially effective for conditions as disparate as PMS, bad breath, moodiness, sluggish metabolism, addictions, anxiety, and depression!.6
The Problem With Laxative-Heavy Formulas
Canadian Bitters® does not contain stimulant laxatives like aloe, senna, and rhubarb, which are typically contained in Swedish Bitters formulas. Such herbs make the latter habit-forming, meaning that they should not be used for more than 10-14 days.
An Energetically Balanced Formula
Canadian Bitters® contains what are considered cooling (bitter) and warming (pungent) herbs, as well as aromatic digestives. Pungent, warming herbs like ginger and turmeric are counterbalanced by cooling bitters like gentian (“unrivalled as a stomachic tonic,” as British herbalist Mrs. Maude Grieve puts it.7) and dandelion. Cardamom, meanwhile, is an aromatic digestive, especially effective for colic and flatulence.
Gentian is the key bitter herb on which this formula is hinged. A recent significant review study that examines the physiological mechanics of bitters concludes that this herb works through bitters receptors in the digestive tract rather than exclusively in the mouth through taste. It is concluded that the cephalic (i.e. affecting the brain) responses initiated by gentian change gastric phase haemodynamics by supporting postprandial hyperaemia (i.e. increased blood flow and tonus in the vasculature), as well as sustaining systemic blood pressure. Gentian is in fact eupeptic, which is to say that it is a balancing agent and has no effect on those with normal digestion.8
Active Ingredients (per ml):
- 22 ml of globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus, leaf) tincture 1:4 (QCE 55 mg)
- 14 ml of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, whole plant) tincture 1:1 (QCE 140 mg fresh) OR 1:3.5 (QCE 40 mg dry)
- 14 ml of gentian (Gentiana lutea, root) tincture 1:4 (QCE 35 mg)
- 1 ml of chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla, flower) tincture 1:4 (QCE 25 mg)
- 1 ml of turmeric (Curcuma longa, rhizome) tincture 1:4 (QCE 25 mg)
- 1 ml of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum, fruit) tincture 1:4 (QCE 25 mg)
- 09 ml of burdock (Arctium lappa, root) tincture 1:1 (QCE 90 mg fresh) OR 1:4 (QCE 22.5 mg dry)
- 07 ml of black walnut (Juglans nigra, fruit hull) tincture 1:4 (QCE 17.5 mg)
- 04 ml of ginger (Zingiber officinale, rhizome) tincture 1:1 (QCE 40 mg)
QCE = Quantity Crude Equivalent
Non-Medicinal Ingredients: Alcohol, Distilled water, Certified Organic vegetable glycerine
Dose - Adults: Take 1-1.5 ml (30-45 drops) 3 times daily, in a little water, on an empty stomach. Take 15-60 minutes before meals.
Health Canada Approved Use Claims
- Gentian is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve digestive disturbances/dyspepsia
- Gentian is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine as a digestive tonic and bitter to help stimulate appetite and aid digestion (stomachic)
- Gentian is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help prevent nausea (anti-emetic)
- Used in Herbal Medicine to help increase bile flow (cholagogue)
Cautions and Warnings
Consult a health care practitioner before use if you are breastfeeding. Consult a health care practitioner if symptoms worsen or persist.
Do not take: if you are pregnant; if you have gallstones, a liver or gall bladder disorder, bowel or bile duct obstruction, acute stomach irritation, inflammation, and/or stomach or duodenal ulcers; if you have heart disease, high or low blood pressure, kidney or liver disorder, diabetes or edema (swelling of hands, face and feet) or are taking products containing diuretics; if you are allergic to plants of the Asteraceae/Compositae/Daisy family. Stop use and seek medical attention immediately if you experience dizziness, confusion, muscle weakness or pain, abnormal heartbeat and/or difficulty breathing. Discontinue use if you develop symptoms of liver trouble.
Known Adverse Reactions
Hypersensitivity/allergy has been known to occur, in which case discontinue use. Some people may experience headaches.
Our products are all third party tested to ensure the absence of pesticides, microbes, and heavy metals and to confirm purity and stability.
For information on other herbs that can help your digestion check out our monograph on Fenugreek blessed thistle capsules to help strengthens digestion.
How it helps
For Digestive Support
- Arthur O. Tucker and Susan Belsinger, “Bitters, Beverages with Moxie,” accessed online from: http://bearmedicineherbals.com/bitters-beverages-with-moxie-guest-post-by-susan-belsinger.html
- Singh Akhilesh Kumar, “Clinical Evaluation of Trikatu as Appetite Stimulant (Agnivardhan)”, Journal of Pharmaceutical and Scientific Innovation Jan - Feb 2012; (1): 50-54.
- Singh Akhilesh Kumar, “A Critical Review on Ayurvedic Concept of Agnimandya (Loss Of Appetite)”, Journal of Pharmaceutical and Scientific Innovation March-April 2012; (2): 5-8.
- HW Felter and JU Lloyd, King’s American Dispensatory. Cincinnati: The Ohio Valley Company; 1905, pp. 924-926.
- Todd Caldecott, Ayurveda: The Divine Science of Life, Toronto: Mosby Elsevier, 2006, pp. 35-36.
- Jim McDonald, Blessed Bitters, accessed online from http://www.herbcraft.org/bitters.pdf?tw_p=twt
- Mrs. M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, 1971, pp. 347-351.
- Michael K McMullen et al, “Bitters: Time for a New Paradigm,” Evidence-Based and Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2015.
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