Bitter is not always the most popular taste for people to seek out. As a result, bitter foods are often lacking in our diets yet they’re so important to healthy digestion. Cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, dark cocoa, dark roasted coffee, dandelion greens, artichoke and some beers like stout and India Pale Ale are some examples where you’ll find the bitter taste.
So why do we need bitters and what are their benefits? Bitters prime the upper digestive functions of the stomach, liver and pancreas via nerve reflex from the taste buds. They go to work as soon as you taste them, leading to a cascade of effects throughout the digestive system. Saliva increases, bile production and release increases, stomach acid increases, digestive hormones and enzymes are secreted, and the intestines are encouraged to start moving. Studies have shown that gastric secretion declines with age and is dramatically low in those 65 years and older. By stimulating the digestive system, bitters help with issues like indigestion, gas, bloating, constipation and nutrient absorption. All good things when you’re about to dig into a hearty meal during this holiday season.
The bitter taste was part of the diet of many traditional people: it is included in the meals of the Jewish Passover, in spring cleansing teas and salads in Europe, and amongst the First Nations of North America in their use of bitter roots in their diet. Paracelsus, Hippocrates and other alchemists and early medical practitioners searched for an elixir of longevity over 2000 years ago and Paracelsus is often credited with the creation of the first bitters formula.
Theriac or theriac venetian was another formula or “cure-all” developed by the Greeks and carried through to medieval times. It was an elixir consisting of a variety of roots, leaves, flowers, berries, seeds, resins, and minerals. Its preparation took months, or sometimes even years, and it existed as closely guarded recipes sold in apothecaries to those who could afford them.
In the 18th century, Swedish Bitters was rediscovered by Swedish medics Dr. Claus Samst and Dr. Urban Hjärne and in modern times it has been popularized by Maria Treben, an Austrian herbalist. Maria Treben helped pioneer a resurgence of interest in herbal medicine by perfecting her own bitters formula of local herbs and using it to heal a wide variety of ailments both internal and external. The formula gained tremendous popularity worldwide through her book Health through God’s Pharmacy.
At Flora, our long company history of working with herbal formulas made Maria’s Swedish Bitters a natural choice for our product line. It’s a potent, comprehensive, synergistic formula that’s been tried and tested for decades now. There are 13 herbs in the formula: angelica root, zedoary root, aloe leaf, manna sap, rhubarb root, senna leaf, myrrh resin, carline thistle root, camphor wood, valerian root, cinnamon bark, cardamom seed, and saffron flower. Together, these provide bitter, digestive, regularity supporting effects, anti-spasmodic effects, cooling anti-microbial actions, and warming, blood circulating effects for an overall, strengthening effect on digestive health.*
The formula is made by a special, step by step process involving macerating and percolating herbs together in alcohol under low heat. Certain herbs are done together and then all of them are added for the final formula. The finished tincture is tested for certain marker compounds to guarantee potency and effectiveness. Prior to accepting the raw materials, the herbs are tested for identity and active ingredients, heavy metals, pesticides, and microbiological contamination. There is also a non-alcohol, water-based decoction of the formula available too.
This holiday season, try our Swedish Bitters as an aperitif before the meal or as a digestif afterwards. For the brave, you can drink a small amount straight (you’ll just need a teaspoon or tablespoon full) or it can be added to water. If you want to get even more festive and creative, here is an amazing cocktail recipe that incorporates the bitters too. To help get you in the mood, use code ‘bitters15’ all week on our site to enjoy 15% off our Maria’s Swedish Bitters.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not meant to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease.