Bitters, Gut Health and our Immune System

There is much research around at the moment about the gut-brain-mood connection – it is both fascinating and relevant as we also consider the effects gut health may have on the strength of our immune system. The gut microbiome refers to the community of bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms living inside our digestive tract. When all the former are in balance, the digestive system is able to break down food and extract nutrients in the most efficient manner possible. This in turn contributes to optimum functioning of the immune system and the ability to fight off unwelcome microbes. A diet filled with unprocessed foods, high in pulses, whole grains, fruit and vegetables will benefit gut health.

In addition, regular consumption of herbal bitters can help to support by encouraging the secretion of digestive juices and general energising of the gut systems. Bitters boost enzyme secretion in the gut, stimulate the digestion and are often taken before food for optimum effect. They can also act as a detoxifying agent for the liver.

Experimentation with bitters is an exciting way to taste different combinations of flavours and herbs and whilst traditionally ‘bitter’ in taste can be augmented to create interesting combinations for pre dinner aperitifs that will also benefit digestion. The use of herbs to aid digestion is by no means new. The digestif Chartreuse was produced by Carthusian monks as a medicinal liquor containing 130 botanicals which had been macerated for 8 hours. It became popular in the 1800s as a calming and soothing post dinner drink which aided digestion.

A popular bitter made in the Brew Room at this time of year combines liver support, calming nervines, carminatives and antioxidant components to make a positive addition to daily wellbeing. Please try experimenting; smelling, tasting and observing. There are so many different possibilities and permutations and at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal taste! A simple recipe follows and please get in touch if you would like any advice on sourcing herbs.

‘Soothe’ Bitter/Aperitif


  • 1 Orange (unwaxed and preferably organic)
  • ¼ cup Calendula flowers/petals
  • ¼ cup Chamomile flowers
  • 5cm fresh Turmeric, sliced
  • 1tbsp Cardamom
  • 1tbsp Coriander seeds
  • 1tbsp Dandelion root
  • 1 tsp Fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp Peppercorns
  • ¼ cup local Honey
  • Vodka

½ litre kilner jar or similar

Method Simply chop up the Orange flesh and Orange skin, combine with all the spices in a sterilised kilner jar, cover with honey, stir and top up with vodka. Leave for one to two weeks shaking and tasting every day until the desired taste is achieved. Strain through muslin and store in either dark glass dropper or spray bottles. Either add a couple of drops to still water or even a large glass of sparkling water and drink before meals.   

A few herbal notes on the ingredients

  • Calendula flowers/petals (Calendula officinalis) for its gentle calming action and benefits to the lymphatic system.
  • Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chomomilla) as a gentle bitter which modulates inflammation and decreases anxiety based tension. As high levels of anxiety may have a negative effect on the digestive system, calming nervines like chamomile may help to settle and improve the digestive process.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) as a cholagogue to promote bile secretion and as a hepatic herb.
  • Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) for soothing the digestion and adding flavour.
  • Coriander seeds (Coriandrum sativum) for its carminative properties and balancing notes.
  • Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) to support liver function and high in nutrition.
  • Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare) as a pleasant tasting carminative.
  • Black Peppercorns (Piper nigrum) as a warming herb to encourage movement and increase the bioavailability of nutrients from other herbs in the profile.

Shelf life : up to one year