Come with me down the bitters Rabbit Hole (we have GREAT martinis!)
Infusing your own homemade bitters from scratch is not at all difficult, and it’s fun to play mad scientist with the herbs and ratios to make your own custom concoctions. Some herbalists prefer to tincture each of these herbs separately, mixing them at the end to better control the ratios and flavors. I’ve tried it both ways, and for bitters, I actually prefer the outcome of infusing all of my herbs together in the same jar. If I were making medicinal tinctures, however, I would separate the infusions to allow better versatility to mix various tincture combinations as needed.
For this recipe, I’ve chosen gentian, dandelion root and chamomile as the primary bittering agents. Gentian is primarily used as a strong bitter, but also has alternative and antibacterial properties. The humble dandelion root is a powerful hepatic (liver) tonic and detoxifier, while chamomile is a super-multitasker anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, carminative (relieving gas/flatulence), vulnerary (wound healing) and nervine (calming of the nerves).
There you go! Try experimenting with different combinations of herbs to create your own custom bitter blends. I have big plans later this spring/summer to try incorporating yarrow, dandelion, Oregon grape root and maybe some birch bark into my recipes, since these are all things I have conveniently growing (free!) next to our house.
If you really want to geek out on the chemistry and history of bitters and find recipes for making your own, I highly recommend checking out the book DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor – A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters for Bartenders, Cocktail Enthusiasts, Herbalists, and More. In addition to oodles of recipes for homemade bitters, the book also contains a boatload of recipes for using your bitters creations.
For additional reading, the Weston A. Price Foundation did a wonderful piece on the history and benefits of bitters, Herbal Bitters: As Crucial as Salt in the Modern Kitchen.