Everything You Need to Know about How to Use Herbal Bitters


What do digestive bitters do?


Without realizing it, you eat foods that contain bitter flavors that trigger bitter receptors throughout the body. These bitter receptors influence everything from digestion to fertility and reproduction. Damage or depletion of these bitter receptors can cause a variety of health problems. Examples of health problems that are specifically impacted by bitter tastes and the bitter receptors that bitterness triggers include:



How Digestive Bitters Work to Treat Indigestion

Different herbal bitters work through several mechanisms of action that aren’t widely known, even among herbalists. Scientists have realized, however, that herbal bitters work through many different mechanisms of action even though a lot of herbalism encyclopedias state that digestive bitters primarily work by “stimulating digestion” and / or “the release of enzymes”. 

In reality, digestive bitters work through surprising mechanisms of action that vary from plant-to-plant. Some of the these mechanisms of action include:


  • The ability to bind to estrogens or lower cholesterol levels, thereby altering the activity of the gallbladder and bile release. (Example: Cynara scolymus / Artichoke Leaf Extract)


  • The ability to alter the way that blood flows in the body in order to divert more blood to the digestive organs and less blood to the extremities. This action is particularly important in people who have post-prandial hypotension, which is common in the elderly, wherein the blood pressure drops precipitously following a meal. This effect can be described more as supporting digestion than as stimulating digestion. (Example: Gentiana lutea radix / Gentian Root; Artemisia absynthinium / Wormwood)


  • The ability to stimulate the gallbladder and the liver to produce and release bile. (Example: Cynara scolymus / Artichoke Leaf Extract)


  • The ability to protect the liver or cause liver cells to regenerate. (Example: Cynara scolymus / Artichoke Leaf Extract)


  • The ability to switch the body from a fight-or-flight / sympathetic nervous system response into a rest-and-digest / parasympathetic nervous system response.


  • The ability to cause the vagus nerve response to “withdraw”, thereby increasing heart rate. (Example: Coffea arabica / Coffee)



Though we taste bitter herbs on the tongue, there are “bitter receptors” throughout the body in the intestines, in the lungs, in the brain, and even in the testes. This fact explains why digestive bitters have a medicinal impact on all of the following:


  • Digestion
    • At higher doses, digestive bitters cause the intestinal muscles to relax. At lower doses, they cause the intestinal muscles to contract.
  • Respiration
    • Bitter taste receptors in the lungs help our bodies detect bacterial excretions and toxins. They cause certain neurotransmitters to be released that trigger an inflammatory response that blocks bacterial invasion.
    • Bitter receptors in the lungs also depress respiration when they are stimulated by digestive bitters. This reflex is thought to prevent inhalation of additional toxins or bacteria.
    • Digestive bitters function as bronchodilators.
  • Metabolism and weight gain / weight loss
  • Blood circulation
    • Bitter receptors prompt the heart muscles to either relax (at higher doses) or contract (at lower doses) depending on the dosage. 
    • Bitters are a potent vasoconstrictor.
  • Cognition
    • A complex gut-brain connection is impacted by digestive bitters.
  • Urinary Tract Health
    • Bitter receptors influence urination and urinary tract health.
  • Sexual Reproduction
    • Bitter foods and bitter herbs induce a rise in sperm count. Indeed, when bitter receptors are depleted in the body, the testes become smaller and men can even become infertile and stop producing sperm. 
    • Bitter receptors are found in the placenta.
  • Immunity
    • Bitter herbs stimulate the immune system to block invasion by pathogens.


Digestive bitters are concentrated blends of bitter herbs in tincture form. Digestive bitters include specific blends of plants that improve digestion, blood sugar levels, or detoxification. The bitter flavor stimulates bitter receptors in the mouth that then trigger the vagus nerve to tonify the digestive system. In other words, when you take digestive bitters, the digestive organs get ready to produce and release enzymes that are needed for digestion.


The use of digestive bitters has been used to help digestion for thousands of years. Nearly every culture in the world has made use of bitter-tasting herbs to improve digestion throughout history.


Digestive bitters are effective when used to improve the following digestive issues:


  • Poor digestion
    • Poor protein breakdown
    • Poor fat digestion and absorption
  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Low stomach acid levels
  • Sour stomach / upset stomach / indigestion / dyspepsia
  • Constipation
  • Erratic blood sugar levels
  • Weight loss
  • Liver toxicity
  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)


It’s ideal to take digestive bitters before meals or about 10 minutes after you start eating, but they can also be taken after meals if you feel bloated or gassy. 


Digestive bitters trigger the bitter receptors on the tongue, sending a message to the brain and then to salivary glands to produce and release saliva. Then, nerve signals continue on to the stomach to encourage the proper levels of hydrochloric acid to be produced. Then, nerve signals travel to the pancreas and to the liver and gallbladder to encourage the release of pancreatic enzymes and bile. 


Common Digestive Bitters: Herbal Remedies for General Digestive Issues and More…



      • Angelica Root is named for the archangel Micheal appeared to a monk, telling him to use its medicinal properties to cure bubonic plague.
      • Angelica archangelica can be used to lower a fever. 
      • It is also able to relieve gas and indigestion as well as migraine headaches.
      • This is an herb that also has cognitive effects and can be used to treat depression.


    • Bitter Melon is used not only to treat digestive upsets, but also a natural cure for diabetes.
    • Black Radish Root can be used to treat urinary stones and gallstones while supporting healthy blood sugar levels. In other words, black radish root is a good choice for diabetics.


      • Black Walnut not only tones the digestive system to relieve indigestion and other digestive complaints. It also kills intestinal worms and parasites naturally and works especially well for this purpose when combined with Artemisia annua and Cloves. Black Walnut is also an herbal remedy for eczema.



      • In addition to being able to calm digestive upsets naturally, Burdock Root also has strong detoxifying effects on the body. 
      • Burdock root is often used in herbal preparations to cure cancer as well as skin diseases like psoriasis or eczema.
      • Burdock Root is included in many cancer cure herbal remedies such as the Hoxsey Tonic.

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      • Cacao is able to lower blood pressure and improve the flow of blood to the brain and to the heart as well as to the stomach. 
      • Cacao can be used to prevent blood clots.
      • Cacao also improves insulin sensitivity, functioning as an anti-diabetic medicine much like other digestive bitters.



      • Calamus is useful in the treatment of gastric ulcers and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), gas, upset stomach, and loss of appetite.



      • Dandelion is a powerful detoxifying herbal remedy that works on the liver, gallbladder, and kidneys.
      • Dandelion stimulates bile production as well as liver detoxification. These effects on the liver help the body break down estrogen and progesterone byproducts to excrete them naturally and safely from the body.



      • Devil’s Club is an extremely valuable medicine and digestive bitter. 
      • In addition to its usefulness in treating digestive problems, it can also be used to treat tuberculosis, sore throat, fibromyalgia, the common cold, fevers, and swollen glands.


      • This is another herb that impacts both digestion and reproductive function. 



      • Feverfew can be used to treat nausea and vomiting. It has also been used as a treatment for psoriasis which points to its medicinal action on the liver.


    • Gentian Root is used to treat upset stomach and gas as well as nausea.

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    • Globe Artichoke is a good choice for treating abdominal pain naturally.



      • Goldenseal is an antibiotic herb that’s also used to treat problems like constipation and nervous exhaustion.



      • Hops are an excellent choice in terms of a digestive bitter if you tend to get headaches along with the digestive upsets and if you also need help falling asleep. 



      • Licorice Root is a powerful digestive medicine that can enhance the effects of other herbs.

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      • Milk Thistle is a well known liver protective and detoxifying herb.



      • Mugwort is a digestive bitter, but also an antioxidant that has liver-protective abilities.
      • Mugwort can also be used to stop muscle spasms. 
      • Mugwort is a pain-reliever. 
      • It is a phytoestrogen that can also be used to treat certain gynecological problems like irregular periods. 
      • Mugwort is a powerful antibacterial and antifungal.



      • As with many other digestive bitters that can be used to treat digestive problems, Oregon grape has gynecological effects. It can be used to stop abnormal uterine bleeding.
      • Oregon grape also can be used to control high blood pressure and inflammation.



      • Peppermint is an herb that can be used to treat both headaches as well as digestive issues.


    • Quassia amara is another powerful herbal bitter that can be used to treat digestive upsets as well as other serious diseases.


      • Use quassia bark to cure the measles or smallpox. 
      • Though studies have focused on smallpox, quassia bark might also work to cure monkeypox.



      • Sarsaparilla is an herb that’s used to enhance the effects of other herbs in addition to its bitter medicinal effects on the digestive system.



      • White Horehound falls into a category of herbs that increases respiratory secretions while tonifying the digestive organs. 
      • This herb also improves heart rhythm in individuals with arrhythmias. 
      • White Horehound is safe for use in children.


  • Wormwood / Artemisia absinthium
    • Artemisia absinthium is a digestive bitter that would be appropriate to use if you had a fever because it will help lower the fever while calming digestive upsets.


    • Yarrow can be used to break a fever, stop bleeding from wounds, or to treat digestive upsets. 


Dosage of Digestive Bitters

Dosages will vary somewhat depending on the digestive bitters product that you purchase. Generally speaking, however, you can take ¼ of a teaspoon and hold it on your tongue for 10-15 seconds until you start to salivate. The goal is to allow the digestive bitters to penetrate the bitter receptors on the tongue that then stimulate the vagus nerve and the digestive organs. 


Typically, it’s best to use a tincture or a product that you’ll actually taste rather than taking a pill that you won’t taste. Bitter herbs vary in terms of how they work in the body, but many of them must interact with the bitter receptors on the tongue in order to work properly.


WARNING: Avoid using digestive bitters in the following health situations:


  • Bile obstruction
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Duodenal ulcer
  • Undiagnosed abdominal pain
  • Appendicitis
  • Active nausea or vomiting
  • Hydrogen-sulfide-type SIBO


Are digestive bitters safe during pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant, you need to be cautious about using digestive bitters because a number of bitter herbs can stimulate uterine contractions. 

Digestive Bitters vs. Digestive Enzymes

If you have chronic digestive issues, you should consider doing enzyme therapy, but digestive bitters can also be helpful in resolving gallbladder problems, liver issues, or general digestive debility. Enzyme therapy is administered to support the organs that produce or store enzymes (the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and stomach) to ensure that food is properly digested down to their absorbable units. Enzyme therapy, as such, helps the body get the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that the body needs in order to rebuild. At the same time, enzyme therapy also helps digest things like peptidoglycans from bacteria that may be living in the liver ducts or in the gallbladder. Peptidoglycans are the underlying cause of leaky gut and psoriasis and in 80% of psoriasis and leaky gut sufferers, ox bile supplements will completely cure these diseases due to bile’s ability to digest the irritating peptidoglycans. Pancreatic enzymes are a natural cancer cure with a 13% cure rate which isn’t too bad compared to the cure rate for chemo which is only 2-3%. So enzyme therapy can be extremely beneficial to anyone with digestive issues, but actually, I recommend this type of therapy to anyone with a chronic disease because poor nutrient absorption is often a problem in chronic disease. Enzyme therapy can help alleviate this problem.


On the other hand, herbal bitters stimulate the vagus nerve so they work through a different mechanism of action than enzymes. Vagus nerve stimulation equates roughly to stimulating the rest-and-digest mode in the body, which can be hard for some people if they’re chronically stressed. Indeed, digestive issues can, by themselves, cause stress, so digestive bitters give people the ability to hijack the stress response and trigger the vagus nerve and the body’s rest-and-digest mode. For readers who are chronically in a state of fight-or-flight, digestive bitters can be a beneficial adjunct to overcoming this problem. Follow this link to learn more about the autonomic nervous system and its role in digestion and overcoming chronic disease.


The Gallbladder and Beyond: A Curious Organ at the Core of Digestive Health –
The Alive-N-Healthy Digestive Health Series, Volume 1 – NOW AVAILABLE!


Other Important Links:

Over-the-Counter Medicines and Herbal Cure for Monkeypox, Smallpox, and Other Orthopoxviruses

Hot and Cold, Wet and Dry: How to Use Opposites to Overcome Long COVID and Post COVID Vaccine Syndrome

Pancreatic Enzyme Therapy – Dr. Kelley’s Enzyme Therapy – Dr. John Beard’s Therapy for Cancer

How to Use Enzyme Therapy for Better Digestion, to Prevent Cancer, Cure Autoimmune Disease and Reclaim Your Health

The Vitamin B17 – Laetrile – Amygdalin Cancer Cure

Digestive System Cancer Cures: Real Options That Work to Cure Pancreatic Cancer, Stomach Cancer, Colorectal Cancer, Liver Cancer, and More…

Andrographis paniculata: Herbal Remedy for Lyme Disease, Leptospirosis, Helicobacter pylori, and Toxoplasmosis in Humans



Salem, M. B. et al. (2015). Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits. Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26310198/ 


Gallbladder Attack (2022). Benefits of Digestive Bitters. Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://www.gallbladderattack.com/digestive-bitters/ 


Mandal, S. K. et al. (2020). Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis L.). and its active constituents: A critical review of their efficacy and toxicological issues. Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32683037/ 


American Botanical Council (2022). Hops (Humulus lupulus): A Review of Its Historic and Medicinal Uses. Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/87/table-of-contents/article3559/ 


Ekiert, H. et al. (2020). Significance of Artemisia vulgaris (Common Mugwort) in the History of Medicine and Its Possible Contemporary Applications Substantiated by Phytochemical and Pharmacological Studies. Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7583039/ 


McKay, D. L. and Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Retrieved July 10, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16767798/