What's the Deal with Bitters?

One of my favorite craft-cocktail bars, Sovereign Remedies, has a shelf full of bitters that they use to round out the flavor of various drinks.


While bitters might be considered the new hot shizzle in the craft-cocktail scene, herbalists have long known the superpowers of bitter.

In Ayurveda, bitter is one of the 6 tastes which are necessary in every meal to ensure proper digestion.

The specific job of bitter is to get the digestive juices flowing.

Notice that when you taste something bitter, your mouth fills with saliva. This is the beginning of the digestive process. Your saliva is full of enzymes, which begin to break down your food so your body can use it for energy.

If you have digestive upset, a heavy feeling after eating, or you want to amp up the powers of your gut so you can get more goodness from the food you eat, try bitters!

So where can you get these bitter super-foods?

The easy way: in an herbal bitters formula like Urban Moonshine's Original or Citrus Bitters.

Or, the adventurist's way: from wild greens!

Wild greens have a different energy than their domestic cousins. There have actually been studies showing that the nutritional content of wild fruits and vegetables differs from those under cultivation. Wild, huh? 

If you think about it though, it makes sense: plants in the wild have different survival needs than those in cultivation. 

Since plants make a variety of chemicals to cope with environmental stressors, it makes sense that when the stresses are different, the chemical make-up of the plants becomes different.

Wild plants tend to be more bitter.

Right now, in early spring, wild greens are succulent, tender, and only slightly bitter. As the season progresses, many will become tough and really bitter, so now is the time to enjoy them!

Jovial King, founder of the bitters company Urban Moonshine, told me that bitters challenge our digestive tract in the same way that the gym challenges our muscles. I love this analogy. It's a great way of understanding the importance of the bitter taste to the strength and well-being of our digestive system.

So go out and gather some edible bitters (or grab a pre-made bottle from Herbiary)!

Meanwhile, there are nettle, dandelion, Japanese knotweed, and chickweed popping up in my neck of the woods.

The violets are up, just begging to adorn a salad or to be made into jam. Last week, I used Japanese knotweed in a stir-fry, while a friend used it instead of rhubarb to make a pie.


I've made nettle chips by lightly frying them in olive oil and am looking forward to making a nettle and leek soup later in the week. I'm keeping my eye out for a clean patch of chickweed, which makes the most delicious pesto (just replace the basil in your usual recipe).

Wanting an adventure but have never harvested wild weeds before?

I highly recommend having your first gathering experience with a human (instead of a book). Check for a local foraging Meetup or take a beginning-level herbal class to get started. If you don’t have anything local, look for a regional herbal conference.

Having fun experimenting with bitters? Share your recipes with us on the Herbiary Facebook page.

Wanna grab my favorite recipes? Download them here.


  On Maia Toll's personal blog:


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