What Is Swedish Bitters?

C. Mitchell

Swedish bitters is an herbal remedy, usually prepared as a drink, that is traditionally believed to cure indigestion. Despite its name, the supplement is believed to have originated in Switzerland. It was re-discovered, and claimed, by Swedish natural medicine doctors some time in the late 1700s. Swedish bitters is traditionally made by soaking 11 different herbs and herbal extracts in alcohol. Alcoholic versions of the bitters are still available, but most of the time the supplement is sold today either as a water-based drink or in powder form.

Many bitters contain myrrh as an ingredient.
Many bitters contain myrrh as an ingredient.

There is some dispute with respect to what a traditional Swedish bitters dosage is made of. Herbal specialists and natural medicine doctors typically agree that bitters should be made with 11 ingredients, but what, exactly, those ingredients are can be somewhat controversial. Most bitters formulas on the market today contain at least trace amounts of the medicinal herbs aloe, myrrh, saffron, carline thistle root, angelica root, rhubarb root, senna leaf, camphor, zedoary, manna, myrrh, and theriac venezian. Some manufacturers make substitutions, add additional compounds, or leave certain ingredients out entirely, however.

Digestive troubles have been reported as a side effect of Swedish bitters.
Digestive troubles have been reported as a side effect of Swedish bitters.

It is widely believed that Swedish bitters was first administered, back in the 18th century, in the form of an alcoholic drink. The herbs, roots, and medicinal fungi were typically soaked by an apothecary in vodka or fruit spirits for a number of weeks before filtering into dosage-sized bottles. Some bitters products today contain alcohol, but usually in the same way that many cold and cough medicines contain alcohol: that is, in lower, more medicinal doses. Customers who want to try spirit-based bitters must usually make their own.

Europe is the primary market for Swedish bitters, but the supplement is manufactured and sold worldwide. Its production is not regulated by any national authority, however, and accordingly, there tends to be a great degree of variance in both contents and potency of products labeled “Swedish bitters.” Most countries only control the ingredients, marketing, and production of pharmaceutical drugs. Herbal supplements like bitters are usually only controlled, if at all, by a country’s dietary supplement rules, which tend to be more relaxed.

Most Swedish bitters products are aimed at curing indigestion, but it is not unusual to find bitters-based creams and lotions to restore youthful skin, Swedish bitters capsules that promise to give extra energy, or bitters powder to make a calming, often laxative tea. It is sold by many health food stores as a water-based herbal tonic. Many companies describe Swedish bitters benefits as a cure-all to most any ailment, and it is recommended for a wide variety of conditions.

Although the composition of bitters can vary wildly from manufacturer to manufacturer, there are relatively few health risks associated with moderate consumption. Reported Swedish bitters side effects include nausea, dehydration, and digestive trouble, but discomfort is rarely serious or long-lasting. Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to speak with a physician before beginning any sort of supplement regimen, herbal or otherwise.

Swedish bitters is believed to cure indigestion.
Swedish bitters is believed to cure indigestion.

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Discussion Comments


The most difficult part of making Swedish bitters is finding all of the herbs for it. Thankfully, I found a herb store that sells bags of all of the herbs needed for Swedish bitters. It's fresh too, which is important. Old herbs will not have any health benefits. They need to be fresh.


@candyquilt-- Actually, I believe that most Swedish bitters supplements on the market have aloe as their foremost ingredient. That's why it settles the stomach, aloe is excellent for upset stomach, acidity and indigestion. But I think that it helps with bowel regularity as well. So I'm assuming that most of the Swedish bitters on the market will be helpful for this purpose.

Or you could always make your own, including some extra senna in the ingredients. Just add it all to fruit spirit and wait for two weeks. If you want an alcohol-free supplement though, you will have to buy it commercially. I think the alcohol-free version would be very difficult to make at home. I'm not even sure how they make it.


Senna leaf is wonderful for constipation and indigestion. I heard about it some time back from my neighbor who said that she was using senna tea or supplements for these ailments. I had noted it down but never had the opportunity to try it.

So it's not surprising that Swedish bitters would be used for this purpose. I will look out for one that has senna as one of the first ingredients. Ingredients are listed in order of amount. So bitters with more senna will be best for constipation.

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