Fancy bitters are part of any well-stocked bar, and artisanal herbal bitters made with wildcrafted ingredients are starting to replace mass-produced commercial bitters in the most upscale establishments. But who needs to spend $10 to $15 on a cocktail that you can make yourself for pennies? Add in the fact that herbal bitters are a traditional way to get reluctant patients to take their medicine, and you’ve got a recipe for homemade herbal goodness that’s fit for even the most reluctant patient.
Dandelion root tincture and burdock tincture are already apart of my families herbal pharmacopeia. The problem is, it can be tough to get anyone to take their medicine. They’re a bit too intense to enjoy straight, and so they often languish in my medicine cabinet. It hadn’t occurred to me that those very same tinctures are the same basic ingredients for homemade herbal bitters, which combines the same medicinal properties in a much tastier package.
“Bitters are made in the same manner as a tincture, but with bitter herbs as the plant material. Digestive bitters can be sipped straight, mixed with sparkling water or ginger ale or turned into a fancy cocktail to drink before or after a meal. Dandelion and burdock root are bitter herbs that are often paired together, and they are both excellent for digestion. They help to increase and stimulate digestive enzymes and bile production, which both aids digestion and increases the assimilation of nutrients.” Colleen Codekas in Healing Herbal Infusions
The book itself is spectacularly beautiful, with dozens of recipes enticing you to craft your own herbal medicines. The photography is out of this world, and I won’t even pretend that that stunning image above with the sexy cocktail glass is mine. That comes right off the page of Colleen’s book (used with permission).
Beyond how well put together and informative the book is overall, I’m most impressed by how accessible all of the recipes are for the backyard forager or kitchen herbalist. There are no crazy ingredients, and most you can harvest for free right in your backyard. Talk about homegrown self-reliance!
Using Dandelions for Herbal Bitters
Dandelions grow just about everywhere, and every part of them is edible and medicinal. I use the flowers to make dandelion wine, and I bribe my daughter to pick the blossoms for me, promising I’ll make her homemade dandelion ice cream. Hiding well beneath those sunny blossoms under the soil, dandelion roots are edible too. But beyond just eating dandelions, they’re also potent medicine.
According to the herbalist Julie Bruton-Seal, dandelions extracted in alcohol are used for:
- Skin Problems
- Sluggish Liver
- Urinary Problems
- Fluid Retention
- Chronic Illness
Dandelion roots are easy to collect in either the spring, when last year’s dandelions begin to break bud, or in the fall once this year’s dandelions have stored up energy for the winter. Or, you purchase dried dandelion root any time of the year. Regardless of how you get your dandelion root, get a little extra to try making your own dandelion root coffee. It’s tasty, and another great way to take your medicine.
Using Burdock in Herbal Bitters
Burdock is almost as common as dandelions, and again, every part is edible and medicinal. Burdock stalks taste a lot like artichoke hearts, and the roots are a vegetable in Asian cooking. An alcohol extract of the root has potent anti-inflammatory effects, and studies show that burdock can help reduce the signs of aging. Modern science has also found evidence that burdock root can help prevent cancer from metastasizing (source, source).
Just like dandelions, burdock can be harvested either in the early spring or late fall. In the spring, look for 2nd-year plants that have overwintered. They’ll pop up early through the snow and begin growing quickly. Or, in the fall, harvest first-year plants that have saved up energy in their roots to overwinter. Second-year burdock plants that have flowered in the fall will have used up their energy reserves making flowers and seed. Or, you purchase dried burdock root any time of the year.
If you already have both dandelion and burdock tinctures on hand as I do, dilute them each to half strength with a bit of extra vodka. Then add a bit of orange peel to round out the flavor and infuse for a few weeks. The flavor will be much improved from a plain old tincture, and it’ll be much more pleasant to take your medicine.
If you’re starting from scratch, use the recipe below to craft your own homemade herbal bitters. This recipe comes right out of Healing Herbal Infusions by Colleen Codekas. Order a copy for more great herbal recipes to stock your medicine cabinet, tea shelf and liquor cabinet.
Dandelion & Burdock Root Bitters
Homemade wild foraged bitters are the perfect addition fancy cocktails. They're pleasantly bitter, and the addition of the orange peel makes it perfect for turning into an aperitif cocktail. Combine it with sparkling water and a splash of orange or grapefruit juice for a lovely drink before a meal.
- 2 tbsp 20 g dried dandelion root
- 2 tbsp 24 g dried burdock root
- 1 tbsp 8 g dried sweet orange peel
- 1½ cups 360 ml vodka or other neutral spirits
Combine the herbs and spirits in a pint-size (473-ml) jar. Cover
the jar with a lid and shake to mix well.
Put the jar in a cool, dark place to infuse for 4 to 6 weeks. Strain out the herbs using a fine-mesh sieve.
Drink up to 1 fluid ounce (30 ml) before or after a meal to help aid digestion or to calm an upset stomach.
Bitters are not meant to be consumed by anyone under the legal drinking age.
Recipe yields about 1 1/2 cups.