The Swedish Bitters’ formula has existed for hundreds of years, in many different forms and with a variety of names, and can be found in pharmacy books (called pharmacopoeias) dating back to the Middle Ages. At the beginning of the 16th Century, the great medical reformer Paracelsus (1493-1541) developed an elixir of ingredients including aloe, myrrh and saffron, with the romantic name Elixir ad longamvitam, which translates as ‘medicine for a long life’. The recipe disappeared a few years after Paracelsus’ death and stayed lost for several hundred years, probably existing in the diaries and medicinal recipes of the learned.
In the 18th Century, Swedish physician Dr Claus Samst rediscovered the formula through a family tradition, he recorded it and it is still the Swedish Bitters that we know today. The Swedish doctor also compiled a manuscript describing the 43 conditions for which Swedish Bitters can bring relief. Dr Samst himself lived to be 104 and finally succumbed, not to the ravages of old age, but as a result of a fall while out riding!
After his death, the formula seemed to disappear until 250 years later, when what we believe to be Dr Samst’s manuscript, was rediscovered and given to Maria Treben, an Austrian woman recovering from typhoid fever. Maria was also given a small brown bottle of the elixir, which she promptly put to the back of her medicine cabinet until some time later. In desperation one day, when she had still not recovered from the complications of typhoid fever and was overcome with nausea, Maria applied a compress of the potion to her stomach. ‘A wonderful warm feeling spread through my body,’ she recalled, ‘and suddenly, it felt as if with one movement of the hand, everything morbid in my body was pulled out.’ And that was after wearing only one simple compress!
Maria recovered fully from typhoid fever and as a result of her experience with Swedish Bitters, dedicated her life to herbal medicine. She also went on to become a successful author with her book Health Through God’s Pharmacy, which is largely responsible for the popularity of Swedish Bitters today.