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Digestive Bitters: The History Behind The Remedy

OWL Venice Digestive Bitters

Are heartburn and indigestion after eating leaving you less than confident that your digestive system can handle the meal you’re about to enjoy? Are you wary of gas and bloating before you’ve even picked up your fork? Maybe it’s time to consider a holistic approach to stimulating your digestion. We’re talking digestive bitters. These have long been used in many cultures to cure stomach ailments along with other microbial and inflammatory issues.

Let’s look a little deeper into how digestive bitters came about, and how they are still used today.

Did You Know?

Your favorite cocktail is the byproduct of ancient herbal remedies. Digestive Bitters are alcohol-based extracts of the leaves, flowers, bark, or roots of bitter plants. These plants have been used as medical remedies since ancient times for those affected by digestive illnesses.


It is safe to say that the father of medicinal bitters is a German man by the name of Johann Siegert. In 1824, working out of Venezuela, Dr. Siegert discovered the effects of Angostura on soldiers who had fallen ill with malaria and seasickness during the war for independence.

It is believed that Dr. Siegert might have gained knowledge from the locals on which herbs were known for restorative properties in the area. Many locals in Trinidad continue the use of Angostura bitters to this day to treat digestive issues because the main ingredient is gentian root.

However, we should note that traces of bitters have been found in ancient Egyptian wine jars, leading historians to believe that it was common practice of the Egyptians’ to infuse their wine with medicinal herbs.

During the 19th Century, the English practice of adding herbs to Canary wine gained popularity in the area formerly known as the American Colonies, and thus, the cocktail was born. A mixture of spirit, sugar, water, and bitters became the popular social drink of choice.

Mary Poppins was onto something with that spoonful of sugar after all...

Why Bitters?

The mechanics behind the consumption of bitters and how your body responds to them is based on the body’s will to survive.

Your tongue is not the only organ with taste receptors - your stomach, gut, pancreas, and liver can also tell when you consume something bitter.

Bitter taste signals to your brain and stomach that you may have ingested poison. Therefore, your stomach wants food to dilute what it thinks will harm your body. Your digestive process is jump started by the salivary gland activation in your mouth, as well as the production of digestive enzymes in your stomach.

The stimulation of these receptors allow your gut to absorb nutrients in a better way, your liver to naturally detoxify itself, and to help your body to release stress (read more: Gut-Brain axis).

Aperitifs - such as wormwood and gentian root - are for before eating to stimulate the secretion of bile in the liver and gallbladder.

Digestifs are used after eating. These can include fennel, orange peel, valerian root, ginger, spearmint, and peppermint. These can help prevent the formation of gas in the intestinal tract, and also help the motion of gas through the body.


The following are only a very short sampling of the different kinds of bitters used to help digestion and other health issues.

  • Dandelion Root - a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation.
  • Gentian Root - used to counteract indigestion, loss of appetite, and bouts of heartburn.
  • Chicory Root - helps digestion and bowel function and can help regulate blood sugar.
  • Wormwood - assists overall digestion and can help increase appetite.
  • Black Walnut Leaf - contains tannins which aid in inflammation and can even be beneficial to skin health.
  • Oregon Grape Root - contains a plant compound called berberine that has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been used in ancient Chinese medicine to treat psoriasis, heartburn, and stomach issues.

Digestive Bitters aromatics


Because of the naturally bitter taste of these herbs, it is a common practice to add aromatics to help balance out the bitterness.

Herbs and flowers for sweetness and fragrance
Mint, peppermint, lavender, chamomile, sage, lemongrass, hibiscus, rose, milk thistle, valerian, and yarrow.

Spices for flavor and fragrance
Fennel, ginger, nutmeg, juniper berries, anise, cinnamon, turmeric, cloves, cardamom, vanilla beans, and peppercorns.

Fruit for flavor and sweetness
Citrus peels and dried fruit, such as lemons, oranges, cherries, and blackberries.

Nuts and beans for flavor and fragrance
Nuts, coffee beans, cocoa beans, and cocoa nibs.


Bitters are commonly infused in alcohol. This is because alcohol is the best carrier for bitters as it acts as a solvent in which the herbs are soaked. The alcohol is what helps extract as much health goodness out of the bittering agents as possible. Alcohol also preserves the bitters, prolonging the shelf life.

Alcohol used to make bitters is commonly between 40-50 percent ABV, and the amount of alcohol in one dose of bitters is very low.

OWL Venice Digestive Bitters

Good, Bitter, Best

What makes our Digestive Bitters stand out among the crowd, you ask? We combine well-known bitters such as dandelion root and orange peel with not-as-well-known bitters such as Oregon Grape Root and Prickly Ash Bark.

bitters for peace of mind

Just a few sprays of our Digestive Bitters calming mint spray will increase your saliva, gastric juice, and bile so your digestive system can better break down food and convert it into nutrients.


Oregon Grape Root is not, despite its name, a type of grape but is in fact an herb commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. The bitterness of the Oregon Grape Root stimulates the secretion of bile, which aids the liver and gallbladder functions.

Prickly Ash Bark, also part of our digestive formula, is not only a digestive aid but also a blood and circulatory stimulant. This is helpful for those struggling with sluggish digestion.

Give your stomach a helping hand and relieve those digestive issues. Don’t just put up with discomfort after eating. Digestive Bitters might be the best thing you never knew you needed!

Julie Weller

Julie is a self-made writer on a forever journey of fitness and health. As a high school music teacher, she has seen and experienced the challenges of maintaining good health while simultaneously balancing a career and healthy relationships.

Julie has always lived a healthy and active lifestyle. She loves the outdoors, hiking, and camping. Over the years she has continued to learn smarter and better ways to take care of her body while continuing to do the things that make her smile. Naturally, all of her teacher friends wanted to know how she did it - what was her secret?

Julie found herself explaining over and over everything she'd learned in her research, and sharing her experiences through trial and error. Her friends would take her advice, try some new things, and then come back to ask how to take it to the next level.

"You should charge for this kind of information!" Became a constant phrase, and so began her career of writing to share her knowledge with the world through health and wellness companies looking to spread healing and healthy habits within their communities. Now Julie gets to combine two of the things she enjoys most - writing and wellness - and use them to affect change in a real way.

When not making music with her kiddos, or writing wellness tips for a higher quality of life, you can find her reading, hiking, drumming, and fitnessing