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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Email or ring for more information;; freephone 0800 0834436

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

Buy this dry mixture or strong tincture on our web store, click here

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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Our herbal tonic medicines are carefully prepared on a personal and individual basis for your healing by medical herbalist Alan Hopking MA MNIMH FINEH.

Only whole herbs are used in our herbal medicines. Nothing else is added. If you have symptoms which you consider might be helped with herbal medicine please contact herbal practitioner Alan Hopking for a friendly confidential professional consultation. See terms and fees.

Once you have received your herbal prescription you can contact Alan Hopking at any time for more free advice (preferably by email). When you have completed your bottle of herbal medicine and if you want a repeat prescription you are requested to phone or email so that your progress can be assessed and adjustments made if necessary so that there is no break in your treatment. To order or re-order, click here.

MRCHM - see Alan Hopking's statement about renouncing his association with membership of this organisation

HERBACTIVE Centre of Herbal Medicine, England, UK. Freephone 0800 0834436

General advice to consumers on the use of herbal remedies from the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency

From the website of the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency ( Department of Health, UK

• Remember that herbal remedies are medicines. As with any other medicine they are likely to have an effect on the body and should be used with care. • Herbal remedies may sometimes interact with other medicines. This makes it particularly important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking a herbal remedy with other medicines such as prescribed medicines (those provided through your doctor or dentist). • Treat with caution any suggestion that a herbal remedy is '100% safe' or is 'safe because it is natural'. Many plants, trees, fungi and algae can be poisonous to humans. It is worth remembering that many pharmaceuticals have been developed or derived from these sources because of the powerful compounds they contain. Any medicine, including herbal remedies, which have an effect on the body should be used with care. • Treat with caution any herbalist or other person who supplies herbal remedies if they are unwilling or unable to provide written information, in English, listing the ingredients of the herbal remedy they are providing. • If you are due to have a surgical operation you should always remember to tell your doctor about any herbal remedy that you are taking. • Anyone who has previously experienced any liver complaint, or any other serious health complaint is advised not to take any herbal remedy without speaking to their doctor first.


Pregnant/Breast-feeding mothers

Few conventional medicines have been established as safe to take during pregnancy and it is generally recognised that no medicine should be taken unless the benefit to the mother outweighs any possible risk to the foetus. This rule should also be applied to herbal medicinal products. However, herbal products are often promoted to the public as being “natural” and completely “safe” alternatives to conventional medicines. Some herbal ingredients that specifically should be avoided or used with caution during pregnancy. As with conventional medicines, no herbal products should be taken during pregnancy unless the benefit outweighs the potential risk.

Volatile Oils

Many herbs are traditionally reputed to be abortifacient and for some this reputation can be attributed to their volatile oil component.(6) A number of volatile oils are irritant to the genito-urinary tract if ingested and may induce uterine contractions. Herbs that contain irritant volatile oils include ground ivy, juniper, parsley, pennyroyal, sage, tansy and yarrow. Some of these oils contain the terpenoid constituent, thujone, which is known to be abortifacient. Pennyroyal oil also contains the hepatotoxic terpenoid constituent, pulegone. A case of liver failure in a woman who ingested pennyroyal oil as an abortifacient has been documented.


A stimulant or spasmolytic action on uterine muscle has been documented for some herbal ingredients including blue cohosh, burdock, fenugreek, golden seal, hawthorn, jamaica dogwood, motherwort, nettle, raspberry, and vervain. Herbal Teas Increased awareness of the harmful effects associated with excessive tea and coffee consumption has prompted many individuals to switch to herbal teas. Whilst some herbal teas may offer pleasant alternatives to tea and coffee, some contain pharmacologically active herbal ingredients, which may have unpredictable effects depending on the quantity of tea consumed and strength of the brew. Some herbal teas contain laxative herbal ingredients such as senna, frangula, and cascara. In general stimulant laxative preparations are not recommended during pregnancy and the use of unstandardised laxative preparations is particularly unsuitable. A case of hepatotoxicity in a newborn baby has been documented in which the mother consumed a herbal tea during pregnancy as an expectorant. Following analysis the herbal tea was reported to contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids which are known to be hepatotoxic.

Breast-feeding mothers

A drug substance taken by a breast-feeding mother presents a hazard if it is transferred to the breast milk in pharmacologically or toxicologically significant amounts. Limited information is available regarding the safety of conventional medicines taken during breast-feeding. Much less information exists for herbal ingredients, and generally the use of herbal remedies is not recommended during lactation.

Paediatric Use

Herbal remedies have traditionally been used to treat both adults and children. Herbal remedies may offer a milder alternative to some conventional medicines, although the suitability of a herbal remedy needs to be considered with respect to quality, safety and efficacy. Herbal remedies should be used with caution in children and medical advice should be sought if in doubt. Chamomile is a popular remedy used to treat teething pains in babies. However, chamomile is known to contain allergenic sesquiterpene lactones and should therefore be used with caution. The administration of herbal teas to children needs to be considered carefully and professional advice may be needed.

Perioperative use

The need for patients to discontinue herbal medicinal products prior to surgery has recently been proposed. The authors considered eight commonly used herbal medicinal products (echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St John’s Wort, valerian). On the evidence available they concluded that the potential existed for direct pharmacological effects, pharmacodynamic interactions and pharmacokinetic interactions. The need for physicians to have a clear understanding of the herbal medicinal products being used by patients and to take a detailed history was highlighted. The American Society of Anaesthesiologists (ASA) has advised patients to tell their doctor if they are taking herbal products before surgery and has reported that a number of anaesthesiologists have reported significant changes in heart rate or blood pressure in some patients who have been taking herbal medicinal products including St John’s Wort, ginkgo and ginseng. MCA is currently investigating a serious adverse reaction associated with the use of ginkgo prior to surgery. In this case, the patient who was undergoing hip replacement experienced uncontrolled bleeding thought to be related to the use of ginkgo.

From the website of the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency ( Department of Health, UK


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