I am so excited about this post. I know it doesn’t look like much from the picture but it represents a new learning and growth point for me. I love herbs. I love growing them and using them in cooking, body products, beverages, and all sorts of other ways to support wellness. I am always reading and growing in my herbal knowledge. But, I play it safe in my making. I make things that don’t require me to stretch beyond my comfort and knowledge boundaries. I’m not sure what keeps me from really experimenting. Fear, I suppose, is at the root of it. Of getting it wrong. Of it not working or not tasting good. I don’t have that fear in any other cooking but there it is, rearing it’s ugly head in herbal preparations.
One herbal preparation that has interested me for so long is bitters. I have used them for making, as my oldest would say, “adult beverages.” A friend of our family brought us back the biggest bottle of Angostura bitters from Trinidad that I have ever seen. The size of the bottle was amazing. How could one person or family use it all? I knew there had to be more to why bitters are so integral in other cultures.
Italians, for example, have Aperol and Campari, both of which I have loved for years as an aperitif. It wasn’t until I began learning more about bitters that I realized that Aperol and Campari begin as herbal bitters – with the base ingredient being Gentiana latea (gentian) root. The history of bitters goes all the way back to the master formula created more than two thousand years ago. Mithridates, king of Pontus, an ancient kingdom on the southern shores of the Black Sea, developed the first recorded bitters formula in the Western world. China has a much older, well-documented history of the use of bitters. In Central America bitters evolved from blending cacao with other additives.
Bitters supports digestion of food. They are touted with being able to soothe the walls of the GI, ease cramping in the intestine, relieve gas, relieve an upset stomach, They can have a calming effect on the nervous system. They can be created to support the cardiovascular system, skin, digestive system, and that is just the beginning. As I began to learn more and more about the cultural and wellness reasons bitters are so highly valued I began to be intrigued by how they are made.
I finally decided to take the leap. The making of bitters is one aspect of herbalism that I had never explored. But bitters kept speaking to me and peaking my interest so I decided it was time to listen to the messages and give it a go. After all, making bitters seems to be a great way to meld traditional knowledge with modern needs and the research and creativity available to us. I wonder if there is an ancestral memory that has had bitters calling to me. But that’s for another post. 🙂
As I mentioned in my 7 July 2019 post, I am having a love affair with cacao right now. I love the rich flavor and the thousands of years of history that comes with it. So when I came upon Guido Masé’s Cacao Bitters recipe that he shared in The Herbal Academy, I had to try it. Now I have a lovely after-dinner bitters that I can use in drinks or on its own with a little hot water and honey. I love the fact that it is not a quick-make. It takes intention. Patience. Time. First, I made the tinctures with each of the herbal ingredients. This required each of them to sit and rest for anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks before they could be combined to form the bitters. In the end, the combination of cacao, damiana, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, cayenne, and raw honey relaxes my mind and spirit and is lovely for closing out a meal.
I’m so glad I jumped into making bitters. I put fear to the side and decided to trust my herbal knowledge and techniques, and my intuition. The result is I am having so much fun exploring different combinations of herbs. I have lots of plans for experimenting with formulating my own blends, and can’t wait to see what I create.
For more on bitters check out:
- History and Benefits of Bitters – https://theherbalacademy.com/history-and-benefits-of-bitters/
- Making Bitters – https://theherbalacademy.com/bitter-integrations-making-bitters/
DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor by Guido Masé and Jovial King