Swedish Bitters

Bottles of essential oil with fresh thyme, cilantro, blooming rosemary, frankincense resin, dried calendula, chamomile, rose petals and sandalwood on a white background

This is the story of a 500-year old European remedy that rejuvenates vital organs, improves regularity, aids in digestion, and cleanses entire bodily systems. The original recipe of 11 herbs was the work of the “Luther of Medicine,” a Swiss/German named Paracelsus (whose full name was Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim) in the 1500s.

The formula for his elixir, lost for almost 200 years, was rediscovered in the 17th century by two Swedish physicians, Dr. Claus Samst and Dr. Urban Hjärne — hence the name Swedish Bitters. Hjärne lived to be 83, and Samst died at the ripe old age of 104, in a riding accident, no less. It’s worth pointing out that life expectancy in the 17th century was 20-40 years.

It was Maria Treben — a distinguished Austrian herbalist — who brought Swedish Bitters to the world’s attention. As a refugee in Czechoslovakia, she became ill with typhoid fever in a camp in Bavaria and was hospitalized for more than six months. Soon after her release, and while she was still very ill, her husband and family took her to Austria. A woman there heard of Maria’s suffering and, wanting to help, brought her a small bottle containing a dark, strong-smelling liquid. Along with that bottle of Swedish Bitters was the manuscript written by Samst explaining how the bitters heal every illness.

Maria was skeptical that a few modest drops could help her regain her health, so she put the bottle aside. Eventually she changed her mind and decided to give the bitters a try, and her symptoms disappeared.

Treban later put together a book about the maladies Swedish Bitters could help. Health Through God’s Pharmacy is still the best source of information on the many ways to use the bitters to improve one’s health and add years to one’s life.

Prevention is better than a cure, and using bitters as a daily tonic may ward off something that could lead to a health crisis. Our ancestors used herbs as treatments, so the list of the uses of the Swedish Bitters formula is long. Internally, it’s used to improve digestion and relieve pain. Nearly every malady you can think of is mentioned in Treben’s book. There are even uses as topical applications to alleviate skin diseases.

An herbal tonic that’s been around as long as Swedish Bitters and is still highly regarded earns a certain level of trust. It may be the missing ingredient to improving your health. PS

Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Nature’s Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.

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