What is Swedish Bitters?
You might be familiar with digestive bitters or even cocktail bitters — those tiny dropper bottles of liquid seen at most bars. It’s a botanical flavoring agent that can give your favorite drinks an upscale finish. Swedish bitters sound similar, but is actually quite different. It's an herbal infusion made with a mixture of numerous herbs, roots, seeds, and flowers. Typically Swedish bitters has been used for medicinal purposes and can be consumed on its own or mixed into other beverages. Although it was originally named by Swedish physicians – Dr. Claus (Klaus) Samst in the 18th century, Austrian herbalist and author, Maria Treben, is credited with popularizing the herbal tonic.
In Treben’s best-selling book "Health Through God's Pharmacy: Advice and Prove Cures with Medicinal Herbs", she shares her personal experience with Swedish bitters and its myriad uses. She is best known for her use of the small Swedish bitters recipe, which appears in the book. It contains 11 different ingredients including aloe, camphor, angelica root, saffron, senna leaves, manna, myrrh, rhubarb roots, zedoary roots, carline thistle roots, and theriac venezian. The traditional Great Swedish Bitters recipe contains 22 ingredients, but the two different versions have largely the same effect.
The health uses for this natural wonder are vast. Treben’s book lists more than 40 health claims ranging from relieving morning sickness to healing wounds. Although they work for many, you should always consult your doctor before adding alternative remedies to your routine.
Swedish Bitters + Overall Health
Swedish bitters is often called a natural detoxifier that can help the organs work in a synergistic manner. Although there is tons of anecdotal evidence about this purported miracle tonic, we want to highlight two of the most popular, modern uses for Swedish bitters.
Swedish bitters has primarily been known for the effects it has on digestive health. A 2015 study published by the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, found that bitters both prevent and relieve indigestion. Swedish bitters stimulate receptors in the mouth and throat that are activated by bitter foods. This increases saliva, gastric juice and bile production all of which contain digestive enzymes that aid in breaking down fats and other foods. When used for this purpose, there is often an immediate effect.
You can use bitters as more than just an internal health remedy. It can also help to speed the healing of rashes and bug bites or help soothe dry, irritated skin. The latest brand to join the Smallflower family, HerbsnRoots makes a cream from Swedish bitters that nourishes the skin. It can be used to treat inflamed nail beds, torn corners of the mouth, lichen, eczema and more. There isn’t very much published research that explains the science behind why it can be good for the skin, although one study did see an improvement in acne when it was applied to the skin. Some people think that the regenerative and detoxifying properties of Swedish bitters are responsible for its effects on the skin.
How To Make Swedish Bitters
This tonic is a great addition to the DIY natural health connoisseur’s tool kit. They’re actually quite simple to make, requiring little more than a bitter herb mixture, alcohol and patience. To make your own start by transferring the herbs from their original bag or canister into an airtight glass container. Then add about one liter of vodka or grain alcohol. It doesn’t need to be top-shelf at all since it’s just being used to create an infusion. Stir and close the container using an airtight lid. Here’s where the patience comes in. The mixture will need to be stored in a dark place for two weeks to one month. It should be shaken or stirred daily. Then, you should drain the liquid through a strainer and place in the liquid in a separate container and keep in a cool, dark place.
Try HerbsnRoots mixture of the traditional 22 Swedish bitter herbs you need to make your own cure-all tonic or try one of our premade blends.
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From Left: "Health Through God's Pharmacy: Advice and Prove Cures with Medicinal Herbs" by Maria Treben, $26.50; Swedish Bitters Cream by HerbsnRoots, $22.50; Swedish Bitter Herbs by HerbsnRoots, $22.50; Swedish Bitter Herbs by Smallflower, $47.50, Swedish Bitters by Natureworks, $10.95; Swedish Bitters Alcohol-Free Formula, by Flora Inc., $10.99