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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Swedish Bitters; Cleansing Herbal Elixer

Despite the picture today including the bottle of vodka- this entry is not a continuation of yesterday's "lets party" theme!

Swedish Bitters are well known in alternative healing practice as a herbal remedy that can be used both internally and as an external compress.

In the 18th Century, Dr. Samst rediscovered the herbal formula from a traditional family recipe. His recorded recipe is what is still available today. The actual creation of the formula is traced to Dr. Phillipus Paracelsus, a Swiss Physician who lived in the mid 1500's.

The popularity of the remedy can best be attributed to Maria Treben, an Austrian herbalist who while fleeing with her family to Austria, contracted typhoid fever in a refugee camp and attributed her survival solely to the ingestion of Swedish bitters. Her accounts are written in various places including, "Health Through God's Pharmacy" and "The Long Life Elixir", both by Maria Treben.

The recipe is made from a long list of herbal ingredients. You may find slight variations depending on the manufacture but they include:
Senna leaves
Angelica roots
Zedvoary roots
Theriac venezian
Carline Thistle roots
Rhubarb roots

Investigation into the individual qualities of the ingredients will show that aloe, rhubarb root, and senna all have laxative properties. Aloe also helps stimulate gallbladder function. Rhubarb root can counteract digestive tract inflammation. Angelica, zedoary root, myrrh and anise help to stimulate appetite and the flow of digestive juices. Fennel relieves flatulence and bloating. Angelica root soothes, prevents cramps, and serves as a mild diuretic. Licorice promotes mucous secretion and protects the stomach from acid or irritants.

Given those effects, the main use of swedish bitters is for the relief of digestive complaints such as bloatedness, flatulence, and constipation. The anti-inflammatory properties suggest it may be helpful used externally as a compress to soothe skin inflammations including those caused by insect bites.

The typical oral dose of swedish bitters is to take one teaspoon of the elixir mixed with warm or hot water (made as a tea) every morning and evening. When using as a compress, you should apply oil or ointment such as calendula to the affected area before applying a piece of wood or cotton gauze that has been moistened with Swedish bitters. Some people recommend you cover this layer with a piece of plastic to seal the area and prevent staining of clothes as well.

You can buy ready to use Swedish Bitters in most health food stores as well as many pharmacies. You can also make your own from already prepared dry ingredients. You add the dry herbal ingredients to alcohol (vodka, fruit spirit, rye, brandy) in a wide mouth sealed glass bottle and let the picture sit - preferably in a sunny spot. The mixture should be skaken once a day. After 14 days, strain the mixture through cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer, disregard the solid particles (my plants love them!), and store the strained mixture in a sealed glass(preferably dark) bottle in a cool place. People experienced in the harvesting and preparation of herbs can make there own recipes from scratch.

The recommended dose is unlikely to produce any undesirable effects, but the mixture is herbal and should be used with caution if you have sensitivities or special concerns. Unlike homeopathic or essence therapies, swedish bitters does contain plant particles and therefore side effects and reactions are possible.

I personally stock Swedish bitters as part of my first aid/ home medicine kit and always have some on hand.

And by the way- if you did "let's party" a bit too much, you might want to consider a swedish bitter tea as a nice antidote!!


  1. just to expand the Swedish Bitters picture a little:
    When I grew up there were always, and I mean ALWAYS, Swedish Bitters in the house, Upset stomach: water with a little SB and you were sent back to what you were doing, a boil on an arm: SB on a cotton ball, Calendula cream on the skin and the cotton ball drenched in SB taped to it until the boil broke open, then some more SB to draw the infection out and you were as good as new. Funny, how now fifty some years later SB have become part of my body memory: I actually panic when I run out. Buying SB ready made? Oh what sacrilege!!! No no no, you have to MAKE it YOURSELF - how can you trust someone else's potion - after all, Maria Treben gives you the exact instructions (and so do packages of the herbs already mixed). But kidding aside, doing it yourself is part of the healing component, I think - it engages you in the healing process, a relationship is established between you and curing - very empowering. I have treated horses, dogs and cats for infections and my mother actually cured a smashed big toe run over by a car (!. Yes, sometimes it is a lengthy process but trust and knowledge combined have given Swedish Bitters a very prominent place in the medicine cabinet of this family...

  2. I'm all for the "home brew" too, and agree it's part of the healing process somehow. It's also for me a very interesting experiment. I display mine very prominently in a big glass jar on the window sill in the living room. Then I watch how people react to it. Some people won't sit anywhere near it because they figure I'm making a bomb or something deadly or at best it's an experiment gone very wrong. They won't say anything but they will stay away from it, or keep their eye on it- one or the other. It really does look like of like a full jar of chewing tobacco "left-overs"! Some people will ask me about it and then it opens things up for some very interesting conversations it seems!

  3. The interesting, maybe not so elegant conversation re. Swedish Bitters at home used to revolve around the inevitable yellow spots on most of the pillow cases - evidence of earaches that were treated with a small cotton ball soaked in SB and placed in the aching ear - without exception falling out at one point or another and leaving an indelible stain.... And yes, it is DEFINITELY a Swedish Bitter stain!!!

  4. Hi,

    Side-effects of Swedish Bitters have been reported so far are dehydration, allergy, rashes, cramps or indigestion. Thus, it should not be used without consulting the doctor




  5. I never experienced any allergies or adverse reactions and we had SB at home since I was a little girl. My little brother's scar following an operation (when he was just three) healed so beautifully, you couldn't even tell he had a scar (mum was using SB to put it on my brother's scar already in the hospital). I believe it is good for anything, not just indigestion. There is so much chemical stuff out there and you don't need it - get some SB!!! :)