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DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor — A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters for Bartenders, Cocktail Enthusiasts, Herbalists, and More


DIY Bitters: Reviving the Forgotten Flavor — A Guide to Making Your Own Bitters for Bartenders, Cocktail Enthusiasts, Herbalists, and More by Guido Masé and Jovial King. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press, Quarto Publishing; 2016. Hardcover; 208 pages. ISBN: 978-1-59233-704-0. $24.99.

Guido Masé and Jovial King, the chief herbalist and founder, respectively, of Urban Moonshine in Burlington, Vermont, have teamed up to produce an essential book on herbal bitters. The “DIY” in the title, for those unfamiliar with the trend, stands for “Do It Yourself,” which readers surely will after reading this guide and understanding the health-promoting attributes of bitter agents in the diet.

This beautifully illustrated and well-organized work begins by presenting basic and non-technical information about the sense of taste and its relationship to the mouth and gut, indicating how the bitter component of human diets has been relegated to poor stepsister status in a world that worships sugar, fat, and salt, much to the detriment of body mass indices and overall health. Our ancestors generally had a prominent intake of bitter plants that helped curb excess feasting, maintain a healthy body weight, and provide important phytonutrients, but agricultural worship of the more “palatable” vegetables and the widespread predominance of empty calories in the modern diet have proven detrimental, wreaked havoc on blood sugar levels, and contributed to increases in autoimmune diseases.

Returning bitters to the diet may help reverse these trends. The reader will learn that the world of bitters is populated with a wide cast of herbal characters and biochemicals, including flavonoids and polyphenols with antioxidant and anticancer effects; triterpenes with immune-regulatory benefits; organic acids like those in chicory (Cichorium intybus, Asteraceae) that improve glucose balance and regulate appetite; lactones from dandelion (Taraxacum officinale, Asteraceae) that detoxify the system; iridoids like those from gentian (Gentiana lutea, Gentianaceae) that combat heartburn, decrease sugar craving and promote digestion; alkaloids like quinine in cinchona (Cinchona spp., Rubiaceae) with myriad pharmacological therapeutic benefits; and complex polysaccharides, such as those in burdock (Arctium lappa, Asteraceae) that act as prebiotic feedstocks for beneficial probiotic bacteria that are essential for proper digestion, endocannabinoid tone, and optimal health.1

Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Masé lecture or reading his previous book will know that he is a great herbal historian and storyteller, and that talent is displayed nicely in this text.2 Each plant receives an engaging account of its background and history of use by humans. As a DIY treatise, proper attention is given to tools of the tincturing trade and best strategies to produce a formidable home arsenal of bitters for every occasion.

The book proceeds to a rogues’ gallery of bitter herbs, organized alphabetically by common name from agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria, Rosaceae) to yellow dock (Rumex crispus, Polygonaceae), with a description of traditional use, plant part(s) employed, flavor, chemical contribution, extraction strategy, and a recipe suggestion. One notable outlier is certainly not kosher, as the smoked and cured Sus scrofa domesticus flesh is required if the carnivorous among us wish to avail themselves of “Bacon Bitters.”

DIY Bitters features 60 enticing recipes that are not merely confined to tinctures. Examples include the following: “Coffee Cutter,” a mixture of roasted burdock, chicory, and dandelion roots meant to enhance the flavor of coffee (Coffea arabica, Rubiaceae); “Barolo Chinato,” an Italian amaro created by adding a host of herbs to a fine vintage; “Bitter Melon Chutney,” a side dish made with Momordica charantia (Cucurbitaceae); “Kava-Ginger Pastilles,” spicy candies made with Piper methysticum (Piperaceae) and Zingiber officinale (Zingiberaceae); and “Iron Tonic Syrup,” a nourishing blend of various herbs and molasses.

These are accompanied by recipes for the more traditional “Angostura” bitters and “Bloody Mary Bitters” to buffer or better the taste of alcohol in a cocktail, along with seasonal recipes for optimizing health with fresh herbs of the moment, and symptom-specific recipes for sleep, dreaming, fever, and liver and immunological support. Several celebrity selections from Tieraona Low Dog, MD; Jim McDonald; Christopher Hobbs, PhD, LAc; and Rosemary Gladstar are certain to encourage lucky readers to try their hands at recipes shared by these herbal luminaries.

The book displays large font and lovely phyto-photography, and so represents the perfect gift solution for the herbally oriented person with advancing presbyopia and an expanding waistline. It would be an outstanding companion volume to the recent culinary offering on the subject.3 DIY Bitters deserves an honored place in the library of every gardener and herbalist as they consider projects to optimize health with the aid of nature’s harvest.

—Ethan B. Russo, MD
Medical Director,
Los Angeles, California


  1. Russo EB. Beyond cannabis: Plants and the endocannabinoid system. Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2016;37(7):594-605.
  2. Masé G. The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter and Tonic Plants. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press; 2013.
  3. McLagan J. Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press; 2014.