Digestive Bitters & Grapefruit Bitters Recipe
This year all of my recipes were inspired by my six-week trip to France and Iceland earlier this spring. I am really looking forward to sharing these goodies with you!
Our first recipe is a digestive bitters blend made with grapefruit and herbs and spices.
While we are seeing an increasing infatuation with the bitter taste here in the US (with herbalists and bartenders and chefs), France never lost its love of bitters and numerous bitter drinks are still a daily part of the French life.
These drinks are sipped before meals (aperitifs) or after meals (digestifs) and include famous labels such as Chartreuse or Suze as well as regional artisan blends.
Perhaps one reason why the French never lost their love of bitters is because their rich diet almost necessitates a bitter digestive aid! If you were eating copious amounts of cheese, cream-based meals, duck confit and chocolate mousse you’d never want to give up your bitters either!
The bitter taste is a powerful part of digestion that is commonly missing from our daily diets. The bitter taste increases salivation (our first digestive enzyme, which breaks down carbohydrates). This releases a cascades of digestive events, including increased HCL in the stomach that further breaks down carbohydrates and proteins. It also promotes bile production and release, which is necessary for the digestion of fats. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of bitters for digestion.
When you begin a meal with a bitter taste you are essentially alerting your digestive system, “Hey, wake up! Food is on its way!”
To get the benefits of the bitter taste you can eat bitter foods (like endives or raddiccio) or take herbal teas, pastilles or tinctures. You’ll derive the most benefits when bitters are a daily part of your life. While taking bitters once in awhile could help with acute digestive problems such as bloating or gas, taking bitters every day broadly supports your digestion to keep it healthy and strong.
And while we commonly recommend bitters before the meals, the French drink bitters before their meals (Suze), eat bitter foods in their meal (endives) and may even drink a bitter digestif after the meal.
Before we get to our grapefruit bitters recipe let’s take a look at the ingredients.
This recipe uses the fruit as well as the peel of a grapefruit. The fruit gives this a pleasant flavor and the peel adds additional antioxidants and a bitter taste. While we obviously enjoy the flavor of the fruit over the peel the peel is actually more nutrient dense!
Artichoke Leaves (Cynara scolymus)
Besides the bitter grapefruit peel, artichoke is the herb that adds an additional bitter taste. Artichoke leaf has many health benefits and is commonly used in bitter digestive blends as well as for supporting healthy cholesterol levels.
Hawthorn Berries (Crataegus monogyna)
Hawthorn berries are high in antioxidants and famously used in western herbalism to support heart health. The Chinese use hawthorn berries for stagnant digestion, making them a great addition to this digestive blend.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Hibiscus has a tart flavor and gives a pink to red color to this blend. This tart herb has traditionally been used to support healthy blood pressure and address high blood sugar.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel is one of my favorite carminative herbs. It has a pleasant aromatic taste that herbalists frequently recommend for upset tummies in both children and adults.
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
I’ve been adding black pepper to many of my recipes. This spice adds a pleasant taste, supports digestion and improves the digestibility of all the other herbs in this recipe.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander is an herb that brings everything together. It has carminative properties that make it a good match for this digestive blend. Coriander is commonly used as a corrigent herb; that is, an herb that is added to recipes to help balance them either through taste or energetics.
Star Anise (Illicium verum)
I actually built this recipe around star anise. I wanted to challenge myself to use an herb that I don’t frequently reach for and star anise is the one that called out to me. From there I chose the other herbs around its special taste. Star anise is a beautiful spice that is both sweet and aromatic with a delicate licorice-like flavor. Even if you don’t tend to like licorice I would give this recipe a shot since the taste is incredibly mild in this blend.
Grapefruit Bitters Recipe
This bitters recipe is perfect for daily use to support healthy digestion. I recommend taking a small amount before each meal. You can take this straight on a spoon or add it to sparkling water as a type of low alcohol “mocktail”.
What you’ll need…
- 1/2 of a large grapefruit
- 1 tablespoon dried artichoke leaves (1 gram)
- 1/4 cup dried hawthorn berries (20 grams)
- 1/4 cup dried whole hibiscus flowers (7 grams)
- 2 tablespoons dried coriander seeds (5 grams)
- 4 dried star anise pods
- 1 tablespoon dried fennel seeds (5 grams)
- 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (3 grams)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey
- Vodka or brandy
- Cut up the half grapefruit including the fruit and peel. Add this to a quart jar.
- Place the rest of the herbs and spices in the jar.
- Add honey to taste. The sweetness of the honey brings out the flavors in the recipe but is not meant to overpower the bitter flavor.
- Fill the jar with vodka or brandy. Cover and shake well. Label.
- Keep this out on your counter, shaking it occasionally.
- I suggest tasting it regularly to see when it is to your liking. While we often macerate tinctures for 4 to 6 weeks, I find that this tastes great after about 2 weeks.
- I like to add a few splashes of grapefruit bitters to sparkling water.
Your grapefruit bitters will last indefinitely, but I recommend using it within a year.
If you avoid alcohol, you could try this with vinegar instead of brandy or vodka. Keep in mind that it may not preserve very well with the added water content of the grapefruit. You can also try this bitter pastilles recipe, which does not use alcohol.
Feeling bitter? ;-)
Wow! This looks amazing! I made a bitters recipe with my daughter a few months ago, using orange, cloves, cardamon and more, and I definitely notice a difference when I take it around a meal. This looks so fun to play around with the different flavors!
Is there a comprehensive list somewhere of ingredients that can be used in a bitters recipe?
The bitters recipe you made with your daughter sounds great!
I’m not aware a comprehensive bitters list.
So I can’t stand grapefruit or artichokes, but I have all the other herbs on hand. I might just make the recipe like that…
Artichoke leaves don’t taste anything like artichokes that you eat. They are strictly bitter. You could substitute an orange or other citrus in this recipe.
This recipe looks very interesting and I’d like to try it. But, I am vegan. I don’t eat/drink honey. Can I substitute agave syrup or maple syrup and still have the beneficial effects?
Sure. I personally would use maple syrup since agave honey isn’t a very healthy option.
I have a nutribullet (blender) that will emulsify the grapefruit and skin. I also have an elec mill that would make the herbs/seeds into a powder. Therefore, using ALL parts without waste. Should this be avoided or would the recipe need to be adjusted? What do you suggest?
I wouldn’t powder the herbs because it will be difficult to strain. Blending up the grapefruit could be helpful though. That being said I love the way mine turned out following the directions above. Nothing is wasted leaving things whole.
Thank you – look forward to creating!! x
I have a question… are all hibiscus flowers (and I am assuming you actually use the flowers themselves?) the same? I have some growing, but am not sure which hibiscus it is, plus some of the things I’ve read say not the flowers, buy the calyxes only. So, I am a bit confused…. Also, my hubby cannot have grapefruit due to his cancer meds, so would orange peels work? Thank you.
Many hibiscus flowers are used similarly, but since I have no idea what you are growing it’s hard for me to say whether or not you can use it. I use the whole flowers, not the calyx. And you can substitute an orange for the grapefruit.
For the hibiscus, can we use dried “jamaica” leaves found in Mexican food markets.
Jamaica is the Spanish word for hibiscus, and is used to make a delicious cold drink — kind of like kool aid, after you add your sweetener.
Where can I get some of those cool bottles with the corks?
I got those at Mountain Rose Herbs. http://www.iwantherbs.com :)
Thank you for the recipe. Can one use fresh artichoke leaves ??
Remember too, it’s Fire Cider season !! :)
You could use fresh artichoke leaves, but make sure you are using the leaves from the plant, not the leaves from the vegetable you buy at the store.
Can you recommend any specific type of vodka or brandy? Thanks
Any type will do.
This looks great! Can’t wait to try it!
Rosalee, I have all ingredients except for the artichoke leaves and would love to get a jar started. What alternatives for the artichoke leaves might work? (BTW, i made a batch of fresh mustard and the vitamin C balls from Herbal Cold Care. Loving the fun!! <3
I also love gentian root as a bitter (Gentiana lutea). I am so happy to hear you are enjoying Herbal Cold Care!
Does it need to be refrigerated after straining it?
Nope. The alcohol content should preserve it without refrigeration.
I don’t have access to dried artichoke leaves and dried hawthorne berries. Can I substitute them somehow?
I also like using Gentian as a bitter (Gentiana lutea). You could just leave out the hawthorne berries, but you’ll need some type of bitter in there.
This recipe is great. I can serve it to guests in kvass or other fermentation after a meal. Thanks so much for all the work you give freely.
I have been using pre-made bitters, but I’d love to make my own! It would be so convenient if you could put together a kit with all the herbs in these amounts!
I’m guessing this would be great for those of us that no longer have gallbladders and to use on a daily basis. What would you recommend for dosage?
Anywhere from 1/2 teaspoon to a few splashes.
I was wondering how this would interact w/statin drugs. When I was prescribed them I was told to avoid grapefruit in any form.
Grapefruit can interact with certain drugs. I’ve seen the recommendation for people to avoid taking certain drugs at the same time as grapefruit. If your doctor has told you to avoid grapefruit entirely then you’ll need to take it up with your doctor. You could substitute an orange in this recipe.
use Orange instead
Thanks, Rosalee, for another beautiful recipe. I’m crazy about bitters and bitter food, and am wondering if too much bitter can be damaging to a body. Is there any reason for restraint?
I think your taste buds would let you know if you over did it.
Thank you for all that you do, most gracious!
Trying to do this just with what I have on hand or can forage. Would dandelion root or burdock leaf work in place of artichoke leaf? Or are they not bitter enough for the purpose?
You could give them a try, both of those are used in bitter recipes.
sounds awesome; is there an ideal amount of time before eating that taking bitters is most effective?
You’ll often see herbalists recommend 15 minutes before a meal. I’m not sure where that comes from and I just recommend getting them in sometime before you eat. Or during. Or after. :)
Love the recipe. You do a great job! I am wondering if I’m missing the link to print just the recipe? If I print the whole thing, it’s 17 pages. I tried to highlight it and copy and paste but it comes out black. Thanks for the help. Sandy
We hope to have a print option available soon but it hasn’t been set up yet.
Thanks Rosalee, looks like a great recipe. My husband is sensitive to coriander. Any suggestions on a substitute?
I would just leave it out.
Thank you Rosalee for all you do and share so freely! I too look forward to the “print” option soon. I tend to be “old school” and don’t like storing things on my computer – but print them out and put them in a book to reference again and again.
LearningHerbs and Herb mentor have been a wondeful find! I am so enjoying the different courses! I am a TBI survivor, while above average intelligence I still learn on a different learning curve. Your presentations with the prinatable scripts and all the info have be delightful…. Never tried bitters (or oxymels) liking the Idea of both! Thank you for all the new ideas and knowledge!
I am so thrilled you offered a bitters recipe without alcohol! Yes, my family refrains from alcohol. The comments above have really helped me formulate a plan. I don’t seem to get enough bitter taste in my diet though we grow a lot of “bitter” food down here in Fl. during the winter. The grapefruits, oranges, satsumas and kumquats are just coming in. So I love any way that I can preserve them for the future. Thanks again!
I would love to make this,,however since I take some daily prescription medication,,grapefruit is not allowed. So would it be as effective using an orange? Just a head up,,that there are many medications that state “no grapefruit”.
Yes, you can use an orange for this. I would use a whole orange rather than half of a large grapefruit.
When you say to “add honey to taste” are you adding honey along the way as you taste it or is this an educated guess at the beginning of the process?
I’d go with 1/4 cup to start out. Some people may find they want more than this. You could also try it without honey, but I find just a bit of honey helps to bring the flavor out a bit.
Thank you so much for sharing this recipe! I love the recipes you post (especially the herbal gummies and deodorant).
I’ve been looking for a bitters I can take while nursing – would you say this is breastfeeding compatible? My son is 2 years old (if that has any influence on whether it is safe for us or not).
I just started my batch tonight. I used an orange instead of grapefruit due to medication contraindications. Now I can hardly wait the two weeks! Thanks for the recipe.
My kids and I just put ours together! It will be just shy of a week but might try it at Thanksgiving anyways. Thank you so much for sharing!!! Bless you!!!
You should have a printable version also so we can keep the recipes.
you should just select the text, copy it, paste it into a blank document and print it. then be grateful someone took the time to share this with you for free.
I would like to print it as well. I love the new site but it’s difficult to print from. I used to be able to copy it and print in a word doc but with the new site it’s now challenging to do that–not sure if I can fix it on my end. And…I suspect that everyone who is on this site is as grateful as I am that Rosalee is willing to share her knowledge and recipes. Thank you Rosalee and John!
For now, it’s really easy to BOOKMARK this page in your browser, then come back whenever you want to make the recipe. Saves paper too! I like making folders in my bookmarks bar on my browser. Then simply drag the URL into those folders when we come out with a new recipe.
I used fresh artichoke leaves because I did not want to wait for the leaves to dry.