By Arianne Wack | Photograph Natalie Stultz
Growing up amidst homesteaders in rural Vermont, Jovial King spent her childhood wandering in the woods and playing on her family’s biointensive organic veggie farm, which doubled as a local CSA. As a young adult, she apprenticed with herbalists around the country, taking her first herb course in, ho-hum, Boulder, Colorado. “The teachers would always circle back around to digestion,” says King. Time and time again, she was told there weren’t good herbal products on the market to promote a healthy gut.
To fill that niche, in 2009, King founded Urban Moonshine out of her kitchen in Burlington, Vermont. Most people hear bitters and think cocktail, but the term describes anything that tastes bitter and therefore promotes digestive secretions, such as dandelion leaves, coffee, or dark chocolate. The abundance of salty and sweet foods in the modern North American diet sit heavy in the gut, not necessarily because they are hard to digest but, according to King, they lack the “trigger” of the bitter flavor.
Bitters like dandelion root, burdock and gentian, ingredients in Urban Moonshine’s top selling Organic Original Digestive Bitters, let the body know it’s about to receive food and should begin producing the enzymes to help break everything down. According to Kara Siedman, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Rocky Mountain Gastroenterology, this effect is known as the “bitter reflex.” “The bitter flavor will stimulate the production of hydrochloric acids and other gastric juices,” says Siedman, “which will then increase how fast the stomach empties into the small intestine.”
Known as tinctures—herbal formulas where plants have been steeped in alcohol—King’s products vary in color, smell of the earth, and taste like booze you might make from your garden. Although bitters are the focus, Urban Moonshine produces everything from a tonic that purportedly helps sore throats to one that acts as an aphrodisiac. Concocted primarily with organic herbs and roots, the tinctures combat sleeplessness, ease anxiety, and boost the immune system.
Today, Urban Moonshine employs 18 people—many of whom are herbalists—and services more than 1,000 accounts with co-ops, high-end spas, and health food stores across the country. Although the products can be added to smoothies, salad dressings, and cocktails, they are designed, and categorized by the FDA, as supplements.
“There is a reason why people drink apéritifs with all those bitters in them before a meal,” says Siedman.
From our High Summer 2016 issue.