Ah, it’s that time of year to stuff your face and feel like you’ve got a baby belly! Here I am a functional medicine practitioner and health coach and I admit to feeling powerless to indulge in holiday treats. But thankfully, I have one powerful digestion tool to help me not look and feel like a pregnant walrus: bitter herbs. 

Also called digestive bitters, bitter herbs taste just like it sounds. If you’ve ever eaten a meal at a restaurant served with broccoli rabe, radicchio or endives, you’ve experienced the taste of bitter herbs. 

Pretty much, the bitterest green, leafy veggies are the ones that most people never buy at the supermarket. But there are other bitter herbs that you can get to help prevent bloating. And I’m not talking about the digestive bitters used in some alcoholic beverages. 

Remember, I’m a health coach. So the last thing you’ll read on my blog is that you should have a cocktail before every meal. Sure, having a glass of Campari or Aperol may stimulate your taste buds and get the digestive juices flowing. But there are healthier ways to consume digestive bitters. 

How Do Digestive Bitters Work For Bloating?

Your tongue recognizes 5 different tastes: sweet, salty, sour, savory (also called “Umami” by trendy foodies) and … bitter. When you eat something bitter — or take a digestive supplement with bitters — your tongue basically sends a message to your brain to ramp up saliva production. 

Now you may not know this, but saliva isn’t just something to keep your mouth moist or spray someone who you’re shouting at! Saliva is actually a digestive enzyme. It helps break down food even before it reaches the very acidic environment of the stomach. 

And speaking of which, digestive bitters also may help trigger the release of gastric juices in the stomach and digestive enzymes in the pancreas. One reason people feel bloated around the holidays, other than stuffing their faces silly, is due to having insufficient digestive enzymes. 

So by consuming digestive bitters, you’re helping banish bloating by stimulating digestive enzyme production in your own body. And not only can bitter herbs help prevent a mini baby belly, they may help prevent embarrassing toots and other digestive faux-pas. 

Instead of taking antacids, which can actually cause severe health problems if used long-term (learn more about that here), try using digestive bitters. You can either add them to your salads, using some of the ones I mentioned above. Arugula and dandelion leaves are also great options. 

If you get heartburn after eating heavy meals, seriously, read my article about antacids and start using digestive bitters. Bitter herbs are great because they can help you break down your food without dangerous side effects. 

Or you can buy digestive bitter tinctures or capsules. 

List of Digestive Bitters

By no means is this a comprehensive list of bitter herbs. But if you’re researching digestive health supplements for bloating, look for one that contains one or more of the following:

  • Artichoke leaf
  • Bitter melon
  • Goldenseal
  • Milk thistle
  • Chamomile
  • Yarrow
  • Burdock root
  • Dandelion
  • Gentian root
  • Licorice root
  • Wormwood

Personally, I think gentian root combined with ginger is great for bloating relief. I also like milk thistle but more for helping the liver do its thing of helping the body get rid of toxic waste like alcohol. 

If you’re not sure on how to reclaim your health, the first step is to book a consultation with me. And the great news is that I’m now affiliated with a diabetes and wellness clinic, which takes insurance for certain services. Find out more here

Until next time, 

Jenna Witt, NP
Functional Medicine Practitioner