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How to Make 2-Ingredient Digestive Bitters is a recipe for making digestive bitters with gentian root. It’s not only the easiest bitters recipe, it’s also the most effective and allergy-friendly (or gentle) bitters to use.
Why make and use digestive bitters
A few supplements come to mind as being fundamental for good health, for most people.
Digestive bitters is one of them.
Bitters is an herbal tincture that improves digestion and liver function.
But the key to this article is also saving money. One 4-ounce bottle of bitters costs over $40. Our family of five goes through those bottles quickly. Our budget finally prompted me to make my own! If you’re not making your own yet, this 2-ingredient recipe should convince you. With just vodka and one herb, this tincture takes only 5 minutes to make. Plus it’s fun and empowering!
Several herbs usually go into bitters recipes, but that’s not necessary. There is one best herb. It’s my powerhouse favorite, and it does it all. The other herbs do have roles and benefits too, but there is one herb that is the best at improving digestion and detoxing the liver. That herb is gentian.
Gentian is a strong, bitter herb that stimulates the liver to produce bile. Gentian also stimulates the gall bladder to release bile into the stomach. This whole process detoxifies the liver and helps the stomach to break down fat and protein. (Read more about gentian’s health benefits below the recipe.)
The second ingredient in this recipe is vodka. You can buy any 80-100 proof vodka you prefer, whatever is inexpensive. You may choose to buy pure, gluten-free vodka.
All you need to do? Order dried gentian root. When it arrives, you are ready to make this recipe in just 5 minutes. Your gentian tincture will steep for one month before it’s ready to use. Get ready now, so it’s ready sooner! (Find gentian root here.)
How to Make Bitters
- You can use any size jar, to make as much or as little bitters as you need.
- Fill jar 1/3 of the way with gentian root.
- Pour 80- to 90-proof vodka over the root, and fill the jar to its neck.
- Cover and place jar in cool, dark location for 1 month. (Tip the jar and herbs upside down every other day or so.)
- Strain into another bottle, or several small bottles (find bottles here) with dropper lids. (Find funnels here.)
- (Use one dropper of gentian bitters with each meal that contains fat and/or protein. Dilute in about 1-ounce of water. Preferably, drink before, during or, if you forget, after the meal.)
Bitters’ Other Health Benefits?
While most people need the boost gentian bitters provides, those with common health struggles need bitters most:
- Most with GERD will benefit. Bitters shuts the valve between stomach and esophagus, preventing stomach acid from traveling up and causing painful symptoms.
- Most with SIBO will benefit. Bitters stimulates the closing of the ileocecal valve, located between the large and small intestine, preventing the large population of flora in the large intestine from traveling up to the small intestine.
- Most with leaky gut will benefit, although some may need Vitamin U first. (Read about Vitamin U here.) Bitters creates the correct pH in one’s stomach, aiding digestion, breaking down large food particles, aiding in the gut’s healing process over time.
- Gentian bitters creates an inhospitable environment for pathogens of every kind, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and intestinal worms. It helps to restore floral balance by killing and discouraging pathogenic overgrowth while supporting the development of beneficial flora. (No other bitter herb can boast this anti-pathogenic profile!: being able to kill even protozoa and worms.)
- While some say gentian is one of the strongest bitter herbs, and it’s true that it’s VERY effective … The fact is: It’s also very gentle. Gentian is not harsh in the stomach, and it’s more allergy friendly than herbal combinations. Many of us can not tolerate orange peel or other ingredients. Gentian, however, works for most people.
Jennifer Burl says
Hi, this looks great! Can’t wait to try it! Can you provide an example of measurements? All jars are shaped so differently! Also, the vodka serves to cleanse the liver? And not hurt it? That confuses me 🙂
Megan Stevens says
Hello Jennifer, thanks for your comments and questions. Sure: if you use a 4-cup mason jar, you will fill your jar just above the 1-1/4 cup line with gentian root. The root pieces will fill 1/3 of the jar.
Regarding alcohol, everyone is unique, but most people can tolerate 20-30 drops of alcohol without any negative effects. It is simply the solvent in which the herbal properties are preserved. I am VERY sensitive to alcohol myself: I would not take even one sip of any alcoholic beverage. But I can take multiple tinctures daily with no ill effect to liver or otherwise. However, each patient must consider their individual health circumstances. There are extracts that can be made with glycerine for those who can not tolerate any alcohol.
Hi Megan – This is so cool. I’ve recently begun using Wise Women Herbals gentian extract (which I love) and want to try your recipe. (I’m so glad you did this blog piece.) The WW Herbals product contains water and alcohol. Mountain Rose Herbs also mentions mixing water with the alcohol for the DIY extract (in a 1 to 5 ratio of the dried root). Is there any reason that you don’t use water? Is it just for simplicity and ease? Your version does look easier. Great thanks, KP
Hi KP, great question! My recipe doesn’t use water because it calls for 40% to 50% alcohol by volume (80- to 90-proof vodka), which is already diluted. If another tincture shows water as an ingredient, this likely means they are starting with a higher proof alcohol and must dilute it themselves. Here’s a useful article: https://theherbalacademy.com/dilute-high-proof-alcohol/ So the short answer is: If you buy the 80- to 90-proof vodka, you can make the 2-ingredient bitters recipe here, and it’s less work with the same outcome! 🙂
Hi All – To update, I am on my third batch and for the first two I found my best results were at 6 weeks instead of 4. So, if anyone tries theirs at 4 weeks and is a little unsure if it’s bitter enough, you might let it sit a little longer. I shake mine almost once daily. For mine: mason jar size: small 16 ounce. Organic gentian Root, 8 ounce bag. ( I still have a tiny bit left over after 3 batches.) I’m really pleased with the recipe and I also can tolerate it fine and I totally have a sensitive liver due to mycotoxin illness. Vodkas used: First 2 batches: PAU pineapple vodka ($16.99) and now Vodka Monopolowa – J. A Baczewaki, potato vodka from Austria ($10.99). Both are gluten free. Overall it does save money to make it yourself, especially if you use bitters regularly. – Thank you Megan 🙂
My ND recommends it 30 minutes before a meal. When I forget I’ll still use it at the start of a meal and I let myself taste it. Taste being a signal to the body. If the alcohol taste is too strong for anyone, you could then ever so lightly dilute it with water as you take it. – Thanks again 🙂
Thanks for sharing, and you’re welcome. I’m so glad it’s a useful and economical supplement for you! 🙂
I’ve seen gentian occasionally for sale here and didn’t know what it was for – now I know and will buy some the next time I see it!
Tessa@ Tessa the Domestic Diva says
so easy!! I am going to look for some genetian root!
Joni Jessica says
So much great info in this post!
Wow! I had no idea about this ingredient. Will try to make digestive butters..looks like a good detox habit..
Vanessa Price says
I’ve never heard of this! But now I’m intrigued. And also pro anything with alcohol haha But seriously, I’m going to maybe give this a try.
Renee Kohley says
This is so easy – I have no idea why I don’t make this more often! Thanks for the reminder!
Yvonne Janowski says
Love all the health benefits and so easy to make. I am always looking for good detoxes.
Raia Torn says
Love making my own bitters! So much cheaper than buying them. 🙂
Tina Jui says
There is so much detailed information here! To be honest, I’ve never actually heard of digestive bitters before. But you’ve really intrigued me.
What a great, simple recipe. I also like sticking to the most important ingredients to keep a recipe from becoming so complex that I’ll be discouraged from making it.
Melissa @RealNutritiousLiving says
Wow, I had no idea I could make bitters. I shared this all around!
Love the recipe ! So easy and delicious !
Lindsey Dietz says
I have actually gone without bitters because they’re so expensive. I’m so thankful for this inexpensive, homemade version!
Anne Lawton says
I have not heard of digestive bitters, thanks for sharing this information.
Megan Stevens says
You’re welcome! I hope it’s helpful. 🙂
Bud Gramer says
I have been hospitalized many times in the past for pancreatitis, this making alcohol a no no. Ten years ago I underwent a Whipple procedure, which left me with half a pancreas, and haven’t had liquor since. I would like to try these bitters but am afraid of the alcohol. Is there any other way to make the bitters without alcohol?
Do you think this could be made effectively with vegetable glycerin instead of vodka (e.g. for use during pregnancy)?
Megan Stevens says
Hi Hope, yes, I do. Here are some helpful guidelines: https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/make-glycerin-extracts-glycerites
Kim Mcleod says
Hi, just a question about betaine hcl- being on a vegan diet do I take it with all meals that include any type/amount of protein, such as a little hummus or some nut butter? I’m at 7 caps with no burning and am going to stop at 8 caps regardless. Do I just adjust the amount of betaine depending on the meal? The betaine protocol seems geared towards meat eaters so I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a vegan diet?
Yeah I’m an omnivore and got up to 10 caps with no burning, even tho I’m an older woman (gastric juices decrease with age). Now Ive never had stomach issues but felt based on symptoms perhaps low juices was an issue.
I backed down to 6 and took that till bottle was empty. Noticed no difference with my issues and never bought the betaine HCl again.
I don’t have a gallbladder so do I want my liver to produce more bile? I experience bile dumping as it is.
Ppl without gallbladders are reccd to use bitters and oxbile also.
Colleen Rourke says
Hi Megan, Is there a substitute for the Vodka? Perhaps cider vinegar? I find that with my blood cancer I can not tolerate even a tincture amount of alcohol.
Megan Stevens says
Hi Colleen, yes, you can use glycerine. Here are some instructions: https://blog.mountainroseherbs.com/make-glycerin-extracts-glycerites 🙂
[email protected]'s Nourishing Kitchen says
Megan, thank you so much for discussing this topic. I think many people don’t realize the importance of bitter foods and herbs on their liver, which in turn helps with digestive health. Our bodies are so inter-connected. I try to make a point to incorporate some bitter foods in the diet, some are easy to find such as grape fruits, dandelion, and bitter melons.. but it’s hard for most people to get enough these days when we are surrounded by modern way of eating. I am so glad to learn from you about Gentian. Thank you for sharing!
Megan Stevens says
Thank you, Yang, yes, so true!! The mainstream American diet does not include enough of these foods. I’m so glad you do!
linda spiker says
Thanks for introducing me to bitters three years ago! They are miracle workers for the belly!
I’m so happy to hear that, Linda! Yay. Thanks for sharing, and you’re welcome!
Carol @studiobotanica says
I LOVE making and using bitters. Gentian can be very strong for some folks, so there are alternatives. Normally with herbal clients, I start ’em with a more gentle ‘potion’. Still Gentian is THE bitter — from Europe. We also can grow lots of bitter herbs to make into tasty concoctions.
Great post, Megan!
Vipul Sharma says
Thanks for sharing helpful information. I appreciate the work that you have put in this page. This is really helping me. I will now start doing the same for better results. Thanks a lot for sharing. Thanks a lot for this great share!
Thanks for your comment Vipul! I hope you enjoy the process of making bitters, and that you can really see the benefits.
Great info! Can you use brandy instead of vodka – just wondering if it would make any difference? Thanks!
Hello, what is the difference between bitters and dandelion/milk thistle for bile production?
Dandelion and milk thistle are liver toners. Bitters stimulate the liver (to produce bile needed for the meal).
Would this be appropriate for children to use? What would be the”dosage” for an adult and a child? I would make it with glycerin.
Stephanie Stubbert says
This blog about How to Make 2-Ingredient Digestive Bitters has helped me a lot,
is very well written.
Hello Megan. Thank you for helping us all be smarter! I am wondering if you could shed light on the difference between these bitters and digestive enzymes? I have been taking digestive enzymes for a few weeks without noticeable improvements.
Hi Jennifer, digestive bitters are superior to digestive enzymes, if you’re only going to take one of them. But if your body lacks specific enzymes to digest certain foods, the enzymes can also be taken, for example if and when you eat beans. Bitters help the most to break down fats and to aid in the digestion of meat. Bitters signal the body to create the right pH in the stomach, which then signals the stomach to produce digestive enzymes. So bitters are better, because your body’s organs are stimulated to work as they’re meant to for more complete digestion (including the function of valves, the production of bile and detoxification of the liver). You may only need bitters and not enzymes. You can consider taking bitters with every meal. (You’re welcome! 🙂 )
I don’t have a gallbladder so can I still use this?
Hi Alicia, digestive bitters are very helpful for those without gall bladders, because bitters stimulate the liver to produce bile, even though the gall bladder’s role is removed. Great question. You might also benefit from digestive enzymes. Bile breaks up large fat globules into smaller fat particles. Then enzymes break down fats into components your body can use for energy, skin hydration, hormone balancing and more.
Should one spend a week every 3 weeks, not using the bitters?
Continued daily use, esp of this strong herb, with no break seems unusual in herbalism.
Hi Helene, thanks for the great question. If someone was concerned, gentian could be alternated with other bitter herbs that are not as strong. There are many good ones from which to choose: agrimony and mugwort might be good options. If someone requires strong digestive support, those herbs may not be as effective, so herbs like vervain and devil’s claw might be considered.
I so far have only been able to acquire gentian LEAVES where I live. I just got them, kind of dry already but the women in the market who got them for me say they’ve only been dried for about a week. I know from past medicinal herb studies that tinctures should be made with fresh leaves or dry roots, not dry leaves. But this is what I have. So I put it in the proper alcohol yesterday and the color of the alcohol is stunning, already. An incredible emerald green. However, I’m wondering if you know – as I haven’t been able to find the answer anywhere else, about the efficacy of gentian LEAVES whether dry in infusion or in tincture, as a digestive? Thanks so much!
OMG not GEN…. leaves! That’s auto correction! Please change it!
I did, lol. 😉
Hi Robin, I don’t know either, sorry. Let us know if you learn more. 🙂
About using a dropper of the tincture: Most (not all) droppers I’ve ever used only fill to about 1/3 to 1/2 way, not a full dropper. How do I determine what constitutes a dropperful of the tincture? I sometimes see other liquids being measured in mililiters. Can that be done here? I’ve got my tincture started today, and using Dr. Mercola’s bitters until it’s ready. Mercola’s actually contains some gentian.
Hi Naomi, that’s right: a “dropperful” does not mean that the entire glass vial is full. It’s what the vial pulls up with one suction squeeze, which is about half full, and it’s usually 15-20 drops, or 1 mL. Yay that you got your tincture started. I expect you’ll enjoy it more than the store bought. Even my kids much prefer it to any of the brands sold. Best!
So do I need to order a certain size of dropper? I’ve had some droppers that hold draw up liquid almost to the top of the tube.
Hi Naomi, it works great to repurpose old tincture bottles, as long as they are totally dry inside (no water). Here are the bottles with droppers I link to if you need to buy new ones: https://amzn.to/3v9ljEG
Mollie Page says
Hi Megan, I am a 70 year old female, who her whole life has had issues with the foods and drinks that I eat I have had interstitial cystitis for most of my life along with stomach issues. I did not know I had IC until approximately 20 years ago. I think it went into remission for a while have no idea why, but it came back with a vengeance during Covid after I had Cove it actually, it’s been a nightmare ever cents. I have never heard of bitters, but it does sound like a good place to start, your article was very thorough and understandable. God led me to you in this article I’m gonna try this gentian root and vodka stuff. I’ve tried so many other things. I’m terrible about being online not from that era I guess you could say, but I will try to remember to comment back to you if I can even find it again????. Thank you, mollie
Hi Mollie, I’m sorry to hear of your recent struggles with IC. Here’s a more detailed article about how I reversed mine that I hope will be helpful for you: https://eatbeautiful.net/how-i-healed-my-interstitial-cystitis/ It discusses diet as a major factor. Blessings and best! Happy to answer future questions.