Intention + Patience + Intuition = The Making of Cacao Bitters

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:

Herbal Academy:  


DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor by Guido Masé and Jovial King 

Instagram: @urbanmoonshine

Darkness and Martinmas

I love the time from Michaelmas (9/29) to Candlemas (2/2). But it hasn’t always been that way. Daylight becomes shorter during this time, with darkness greeting us as we head to and from school each day. I use to dread this time of the year. I would wrestle with the inner turmoil of loving winter and detesting darkness. The darkness and the cold made me feel trapped, sluggish, and unmotivated. The only part I enjoyed was after swim practice I would walk outside and my hair would freeze. I would smile and laugh about it. Within minutes of being back inside my hair would return to the wet mess it was.
As our children arrived in our lives my perception of this time of the year began to change. It wasn’t just because our oldest was born during the darkest of winter. Rather, it was because I decided to love the darkness and celebrate it as a time of renewal and reflection. To accept that the darkness could actually snuggle me through the winter to the light of spring.
I decided to bring light – the stars and the sun – inside. Twinkle lights. Candles. Fires in the fireplace. I began to see light all around me, and I began to understand that I may choose to bring and be light as well. Now, as a family we journey towards the deepest darkest days of the year and have steps along the way which help us to know that the light will once again return and to know that we can be and bring light as well. Our family will mark this time of the year with:

  • Michaelmas
  • Halloween
  • Dia De Los Muertos
  • Martinmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • Advent
  • St. Nicholas Day
  • Santa Lucia Day
  • Winter Solstice
  • Christmas Eve
  • Christmas Day
  • The 12 days of Christmas
  • New Year’s Day
  • Epiphany
  • Candlemas

Today is Martinmas, the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas Day. We will reflect on the story of St. Martin, celebrate with our lanterns, and enjoy a Martinmas Spice Cake. As the legend goes, while serving in the army at Amiens, Martin met a poor man at the city gate. The man was half-naked and cold. Martin drew his sword, cut his warm coat in two, and gave one-half to the man. The following night, Christ appeared to Martin, dressed in the piece of coat that Martin had given away. Martin recognized the divine light in the poor man of Amiens and gave it the protection of his coat. Our lanterns give protection to our own little “flame” that began to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the darkness. It may only be a small and fragile light – but every light brings relief to darkness. (pages 163-164, All Year Round by Ann Druitt).
Light is infused into each of the celebrations we honor at this time of the year. Whether its as candles or lanterns or rings all are designed to help us see our own inner light and how it is powerful enough to drive away darkness. We are reminded that light brings love and the more the world is flooded with light and love the more we are able to conquer darkness where ever we find it. Just imagine the impact if we bring all of our little lights together and shine bright as one.
I strive to learn
To learn to give
To give my heart
To all I see.
I see that I
With heart aflame,
Aflame with Love,
Can light the world!
-verse for ending main lesson written by Rudolf Copple (, blog 14 Dec 2015)
How do you bring light into this time of darkness?