Bitters hold their history in old European herbal medicinal traditions and used to serve the same purposes that tinctures do today. Tinctures are herbal extractions made by steeping dried or fresh herbs in a highly pure form of alcohol. Any part of the plant can be used to make tinctures, although some parts may render different effects than others. Commercial processes use ethyl alcohol, but for home crafted tinctures, 100 proof vodka is the best choice. The alcohol serves to extract the chemical constituents of the herb as well as preserve the herbs to last up to two years! While tinctures are herbal extractions typically made with a single herb, bitters can be any combination of herbs that fit your needs or tastes.
Below you will find recipes and directions for home crafting your very own bitters for both medicinal and celebratory purposes. I, for instance, use my recipe for stomach bitters as a daily digestive aid, but they also make an excellent addition to a “Kentucky Mule”- a drink made with whiskey, ginger beer, lime, and mint. Many of the ingredients can be easily wild foraged, such as burdock leaf, St. John’s Wort, dandelion root, chicory leaves, chokecherry, and crabapple. Just be sure to know what you are looking for by using a guidebook to help correctly identify the plants. Alternatively, you can find most of these herbs at an apothecary or order them online.
If you are a person who does not drink, or you would like your medicines to be safer for children to use, you can always make the tinctures using a combination of distilled water and vegetable glycerin. Alternatively, you can make the tincture with alcohol but dilute it with hot water just before consuming it. The hot water will make a majority of the alcohol evaporate but leave the beneficial constituents of the herbs behind. Whatever your needs, bitters are an exceptionally versatile and easy way to use herbs in your daily life.
*All recipes intended to be made with cut, dried herbs*
Bitters for Uplifting the Mood
- 10 g Burdock leaf
- 40 g St. John’s Wort
- 25 g Chokecherry or Crabapple (depending on your region)
- 25 g Gingerroot
Recommended cocktail: “Manhattan” or “Old Fashioned”
Energy Boosting Bitters
- 50 g Dandelion root
- 25 g Chicory Leaves
- 25 g Coffee grounds
Recommended cocktail: coffee or chocolate martini
Digestive Aid Bitters
- 20 g Fennel seed
- 20 g Peppermint leaf
- 20 g Catnip leaf
- 40 g Ginger root
Recommended cocktail: “Kentucky Mule” or “Moscow Mule”
How to Make Your Own Bitters
You will also need:
- 1-quart jar
- 1 pint 100 proof vodka or rum
- 1/2 pint vegetable glycerin diluted with 1/2 pint distilled water
1. Gather your choice of herb combination and toss them together in a bowl so they are evenly mixed.
2. Next, funnel the herbs into the (clean) quart jar and press them down so they are settled at the bottom. Pour your choice of extracting liquid into the jar. The herbs should be covered by the vodka or vegetable glycerin, but if they are not, add a little more to make sure they are completely submerged.
3. Shake the jar to incorporate the liquid into the herbs.
4. Place the jar in a cool cabinet, away from the light. Let the herbs steep from anywhere between three to six weeks. If your recipe has denser herbs such as ginger or dandelion root, I recommend letting it steep longer.
5. Shake the jar at least once a week to both incorporate all the herbs and to add some intention into the mix. For instance, when I make my digestive bitters, I try to hum while I shake the jar, stimulating my sympathetic nervous system. The nerve leading directly to your stomach is associated with stability and self-worth: the stomach chakra. By stimulating the nerve, you are helping your system know that you are safe and loved. Doing this exercise while holding the jar of herbs directly links my intention and memories of the feelings of security and love to the bitters.
This is a big part of my digestive aids because when I am stressed, my digestion is affected. I infuse the bitters with the intention of safety and love to help myself relax, which also helps my digestion and reduces my overall stress. When you are making the mood enhancing bitters, meditate on a memory or feeling of happiness in your life as you shake the jar. When you are making the energy boosting tinctures, focus your chi into the jar. You never know what magic can occur when you place your intention in herbs.