Homemade Swedish Bitters - The Easy, Modern Recipe

by Paula

We don't ever run out of Swedish Bitters, and I promise it is not because we like the alcohol.

swedish bitterWe use it mostly externally, for rubbing and massaging, for head and neck compresses, tampons soaked in bitter for eyes and ears.

It has been one of our greatest allies against flu and colds, headaches and sour throats.

Even our youngest swears by it. She had been on and off nasal congestion and mucus for several months, whenever it got cold outside.

Some nights she could only breathe through her mouth, but after a good massage with Swedish Bitter, she would wake up in the morning breathing silently through the nose.

One night though, she woke up with lots of cries and tears saying her year hurt. It was the same ear she got an Otitis Media in the winter. Ouch.

I started immediately to comfort her and Marius rubbed her neck and head with bitter. He also dabbed a cotton ball in Swedish Bitter and put it in her ear. We put a scarf around her head to keep her worm and to hold the cotton. After half an hour in her father's arms she stopped crying, with the help of some cartoons :), and we all got some sleep.

This winter has been long and difficult. All three of us used up almost all of the bitter, so we asked my mother-in-law to restock. Instead, she said it was time to reveal her secret Swedish Bitters recipe.

2 liter bottle, herbs and aloe extract
The secret ingredients, plus a bottle of Aloe extract that was in the package
But wait! Wasn't this recipe supposed to be a mystery? I thought you must have a Book of Magic, like in Harry Potter, or to be as skilled as Marius' "witch" aunt Hellen to have access to the recipe.

Well, it seems the recipe has been declassified.

Mother took us to the herbal store where she got the herbal mixture for the bitter. After that we went to a grocery store and bought ethyl alcohol.

Then she borrowed us her "famous" 2L bottle (it's very hard to find one) to macerate the plants. The bottle was supposed to be made of dark glass, but this one was transparent. Instead, it had been dressed in a thick black sock to protect the bitter from the light.

All you need to prepare your own Swedish bitters is:

  • 80 g Swedish Bitters herbs mix
  • 1.5 - 1.7L with at least 40 degrees alcohol.
  • One 2L dark bottle (or wrap in a black sock)
  • Three 0.5L dark bottles for the end product

When we bought the herbal mix bag, I felt a little like I dodged the system. Many years ago, Marius' aunt had to run (literally and figuratively) after each of the 30 plants in Maria's Treben "classic" formula. She knew in what region of the country each one of them grew, when it was the best time to harvest, how they should look and smell, in what proportion you should use them and which parts of the plant were to be used.

Did you know there are alternative Swedish Bitter recipes that reach up to 100 (or even 180) herbs?

To my surprise, both the herbal mixes and the readily prepared Swedish Bitters I found in stores differ so much one from another up that they haven't any plants in common.

I found versions with 10 plants: Acacia, marjoram, marigold, calapar, knotweed, comfrey, juniper, angelica, iris and aloe extract.

And also with over 30 plants: hyssop, angelica, milk thistle, burdock, basil, cardamom, cumin, thyme, coriander, cloves, bay leaves, fennel, ash, calendula, gentian, spiny cocklebur, lemon grass, juniper, marjoram, chamomile, dandelion, wormwood, black poplar, celandine, rosemary, sea holly, cinnamon, senna, knotweed, centaury, nettle, ginger.

How we did it or The easiest set of instructions ever:

  • We put the herbs from the package in the 2L bottle.
  • After that we poured the alcohol over the herbs.

    You must dilute the 96 degrees alcohol with water. The alcohol should be at least 40 degrees, so I put half alcohol and half water.

    We thought of using homemade plum brandy in order to give it a more homemade-ish feel, but we change our minds, because the brandy has an unmistakable smell. The ethyl alcohol is inodorous in comparison.

    Phew, that was the hardest part.

  • We covered the clear bottle with the black sock and left in a warm place for 2 weeks to macerate.

    The warm from the sun is best, but any worm will do. During this time, shake the bottle 2-3 times a day.

After the 2 weeks have passed, we strained the content and poured the bitter into smaller dark glass bottles. Keep these bottles in a cool place and protected from light.

swedish bitter
Use old olive oil bottles to store the bitter
We could have bought the Swedish Bitter directly instead of the plants, but we wanted to go as much "homemade" as we could. Besides, our homemade version cost about half of the store bought one.

I spent 3 dollars for the herbs and 25 dollars for 1L alcohol and made 3 bottles of 0.5L bitter. The same quantity cost about 50 dollars. It's true though that you need a 2L bottle and 3 0.5L bottles.

Now our bitter is ready, but we don't rush to use the new batch. Bitter is like wine, the older it gets, the better it gets :)

Go Back from Swedish Bitters to Herbal Recipes

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