Bitters: Beverages with Moxie

Explore and cook with the bountiful benefits of bitter herbs.


| March/April 2004


Recipes: 

In the early 1500s, Venetian monk Dom Bernardo Vincelli discovered an elixir to revive his fellow clerics. Vincelli even claimed the drink cured local French fishermen and peasants of malaria. As it turns out, Vincelli was onto something: This delicious beverage, which we now know as the liqueur Benedictine, contains 27 herbs and spices, among them lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), arnica (Arnica spp.), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) and angelica root (Angelica archangelica).

Throughout history, humans have enjoyed the combination of herbs and alcohol to cure ailments as well as to please the palate. Though they don’t get a lot of press these days — perhaps because their name sounds less-than-appealing to contemporary taste buds — bitters still offer much as medicine and as a flavorful addition to the sophisticated cook’s toolbox.

Delightful Digestives

Before Imodium, and even before Alka-Seltzer, digestives were spirited drinks concocted with herbs to aid digestion. Historically, the most popular digestives, or digestifs, have been alcoholic bitters, which usually include angostura bark (Angostura trifoliata), cinchona (or quinine) bark (Cinchona spp.), bitter gentian root (Gentiana lutea) and/or quassia chips (Quassia amara) as the principal components. Bitters, as defined by Dick Brisbane in his Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes in 1872 (at the height of bitters’ popularity), “are considered as tonic and stomachic, and to improve the appetite when taken in moderation. The best time is early in the morning, or an hour before meals. An excessive use of bitters tends to weaken the stomach. They should not be taken for a longer period than a fortnight at one time, allowing a similar period to elapse before again having recourse to them.”



The majority of bitters on the market today come from Europe. The small country of Trinidad gives us Angostura, probably the most popular of all the bitters. The United States has Peychaud’s Bitters, made by the Sazerac Co. in New Orleans. Most bitters are not drunk by themselves but rather mixed with cocktails and nonalcoholic beverages to add zest. Some people even cook with them to add that Je ne sais quoi!

Commercially available bitters are distinguished from medicinal bitters, which are really theriacs. Theriacs originated from the beginning of the third century b.c., perhaps associated with the Alexandrian School. Originally formulated to counteract the bites of venomous creatures, theriacs became general antidotes for poisons, venoms or ailments. The most popular theriac today is Swedish bitters, composed of (in one commercial recipe we examined) senna (Senna alexandrina) leaves, angelica root, aloe (Aloe vera), marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) and several other herbs.








mother earth news fair 2018 schedule

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Next: June 2-3, 2018
Frederick, MD

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!

LEARN MORE









Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.




Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265