Saturday, 19 April 2008

Swedish Bitters - Addendum

Today I've been on an Aromantic course (more about that - lots more - to follow!). I brought up my use of and interest in the therapeutic benefits of Swedish Bitters. Both Kolbjorn Borseth (who delivered the course) and a qualified herbalist who was attending expressed the view that Swedish Bitters is too aggressive, and that many of the herbs it contains are no longer used in modern herbalism for this very reason. All of this was a revelation to me! I can't dismiss the positive results that I and my friends have experienced, but at the same time it's given me a new angle to research. In particular, my sense is that a more modern and less aggressive formula would be very worthwhile uncovering - taking the best and most relevant from the "old" and blending it with the "new".

The conversation also brought forth the very useful reminder that one can never replace the hard-earned knowledge of a qualified herbalist with sheer enthusiasm (even though it does count for a lot!).

Updated 24.04.08
I posted about bitters on a herbal forum I belong to, which turned up some interesting information from the list owner, Henriette Kress. Senna in particular seems to be undesirable. Henriette sums it up in a straightforward way on her blog:
"The senna in the blend can be addictive: you won't be able to take a dump without it, if you've been taking it daily for long enough. Long enough being 2 weeks, give or take a few days."
Senna is a "contact" or "stimulant" laxative meaning that it stimulates the muscles in the walls of the colon to get things moving. The South African Medicines Formulary gives the following warning about this kind of laxative:
The use of irritant laxatives that stimulate colon motility cannot be recommended for other than special short-term indications. They can precipitate chronic colonic changes, and dependency, both physiological and psychological, can occur. Stimulate (or contact) laxatives include bisacodyl, senna, phenolphthalein, castor oil and cascara.
Aloe juice and rhubarb are also (milder) contact laxatives. In her post to the list on Swedish Bitters, Henriette sums up by saying:
"What you have there is not a liver formula. It's a cathartic formula (with a bit of aromatics thrown in) which will ream you out, and which will probably leave your gut addicted to contact laxatives. It's not something I'd give to anybody at all, nevermind daily "to make you healthy". A honest liver formula would consist of a load of BITTERS, with one or the other helper herb (like Silybum [no pun intended? LOL]) thrown in."
I've just been discussing all of this together with my father, Robert (who is studying herbalism), and we are going to work on a new formula for a digestive tonic together - which also sounds like lots of fun! :-)

Updated 26.04.08
A couple of gems from my research: a discussion about bitters on the Herbwifery forum and a professional formulation brought to my attention on Henriette's forum.

I'm learning about the psychological effects of bitters (can be anti-depressant, have a grounding quality, and shift the focus from the head to instinct), as well as the fact that they can be cold and therefore need to be balanced with other herbs, and the need to eat bitter foods and just use the medicinal formulation as and when really required.

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  1. I swayed to the "for" and to the "against" with Swedish Bitters... I only use it occasionally now diluted in water if I feel I need a bit of digestive assistance!

  2. i have been using swedish bitters (treben style) daily for 6 months now. just 1 or 2 tablespoons (i really did try metric, but the english system is too easy to not use for this sort of application) in the evening, mixed with soda water.

    i usually come down with some sort of illness (sinusitis, strep throat, etc) every season. i only just recently became ill for the first time since i began using swedish bitters (feels like strep), and i just moved to a whole new germ ecosystem (from California to Michigan).

    besides not getting ill for 2 seasons, my sleep is more sound, my gaseous issues have been minimized, and i have been able to cut back my alcohol consumption considerably.

    now, i do have a reputation for having an "iron gut", and i find swedish bitters to be exceptionally tasty and refreshing, so perhaps it is more suitable for some folks and less suitable for others.

    thank you for hosting this discussion.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience of swedish bitters. You're certainly the first person I've heard describe it as "tasty and refreshing". :-)

  4. i should have been more clear. i find it tasty and refreshing when mixed with at least 4 oz. club soda per tablespoon of bitters.