Traditional Herbal Bitters

European Bitters
Chinese Bitters
Swedish Bitters

The action of bitter herbs
Bitters are used for a number of reasons. The most common use is to improve the appetite and strengthen the digestion which includes the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestinal action.

Combining Western bitters
True unicorn root has an important attribute wherein it combines a relaxant action with a bitter action. Useful too in this context is the gentle regulation of the digestive organs by centaury. This means that it will be a great help for those who are not able to eat well due to stress and anxiety, or depression and worry. It combines well with wormwood, holy thistle, gentian, columba and condurango.

Combining Chinese bitters
The Chinese use of Bitters suggests that by cleansing the inner organs using bitter herbs, the organs of conception will improve. So bitter herbs are often used for women’s fertility problems. Using Chinese bitters to stimulate the organs so as to revitalise their functional health and interaction is also said to improve the painful condition of endometriosis.
So combining different Chinese bitter herbs in different ways is popular.
These are the most important Chinese bitter herbs: Chinese Gentian leaf (Qin Jiao, Gentiana macrophilia), Bupleurum Thorowax or Hares Ear root (Chai Hu, Bupleurum scorzoneraefolium), Golden Thread root (Huang Lian, Coptis chinensis), Sophora root (Ku Shen, Sophora flavesens), Barbat Skullcap (Ban Zhi Lian, Scutellaria barbata), Mandarin Orange pericarp (Chen Pi, Citrus reticulata) and Cork Tree bark (Huang Bai, Phellodendron amurense).

Reasons for combining Western and Chinese bitters
Bitters can be used for complementary purposes: to protect the system against bacterial attack (golden thread, dandelion root), parasites (quassia, Peruvian bark, golden thread), liver overload or under-activity (barberry) and detoxification as well as to prevent further acid build-up in the body and joints (barbat, angelica, cork tree, large leaf gentian, arborvitae), blood stagnation (cold) (madder, mandarin), kidney problems (dandelion leaf), nervous inhibition (vervain), bowel irregulatity or constipation (rhubarb); inflammatory problems during an anorexic period (feverfew, golden thread, Peruvian bark, bitter aloe). Dandelion root is a strong bitter for the liver.

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Swedish Bitters
Swedish Bitters got its name from the well-known 18th century Swedish Physician, Dr. Claus Samst. In the 18th century Dr. Samst is said to have rediscovered the formula through a family tradition. The formula is said to have been recorded by Dr. Samst as the Swedish Bitters that we know today.  The Swedish doctor also compiled a manuscript describing some 46 conditions to which Swedish Bitters can bring relief.  Dr. Samst himself lived to be 104 and died not because of old age, but as a result of a riding accident!
The actual creation of the formula is credited to Dr. Phillipus Paracelsus, a Swiss Physician who lived around 1541. However, it was Maria Treben, an Austrian herbalist and author, who brought Swedish Bitters to the world’s attention via her book “Health Through God’s Pharmacy”.
Medicinal use: The Swedish Bitters are taken for general health (a preventative tonic). They can also be taken for bloating and griping, a lazy digestion, lazy bowels and constipation, liver stagnation, cleansing and detoxification, and many other health problems. These Bitters have a large devoted following by people who swear by their efficacy.

Swedish Bitters Recipe
10 g Aloe
5 g Myrrh
0.2 g Saffron
10 g Senna leaf
10 g Camphor
10g Rheubarb root
10 g Angelica root
10 g Zedvoary root
10 g Manna
10 g Theriac venezian
5 g Carline Thistle root

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You can make a tea of this herbal mixture which you can drink daily (put a teaspoonful of the herbs in a teapot, add half a pint of boiling water; drink a cup twice a day). [The problem with the tea is that the myrrh and camphor being gums will not yield to water, and the roots will only extract minimally – Alan].
Or you can make an extract (tincture) using vodka, see below.
Or you can buy the tincture from me as a pure organic tincture (highest quality of extraction) or an organic alcohol-free extract (both are vegan quality).

To make it yourself do the following (according to Treben’s instuctions):
Put 100g of this dry herbal mixture into a wide-necked 2 litre jar; pour over this 1½ litres of brandy, gin or vodka. Leave this to stand for a minimum of 14 days, shake daily. Then strain some of the liquid into a small bottle (250 or 500ml size) for your use in the next 2-4 weeks; leave the remainder to continue extracting in the large jar, until more is required. Shake well before use.
The adult dose for normal use is 1tsp in half a cup of water/juice 2-3 times a day.
For children ¼ – ½ tsp in juice once or twice daily.
Do not take Swedish Bitters if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

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Contact Alan Hopking the medical herbalist if you want more information. [] Email or telephone me for free advice.

Other tonics to consider:

Bitter Melon

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