Manna and Theriac Venezian Needed for Swedish Bitters
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Madeleine Allden
Posted on: June 19, 2000

I am looking for manna and Theriak Venezian but can’t find them. I need them to make Swedish bitters. Do they have another name?

The Swedish bitters ("Schwedenbitter" in German) were popularized in Germany and Austria as a tonic and panacea. Maria Treben, author of "Health from God’s Pharmacy" (available from Richters), was a major proponent of the Swedish bitters. She called them "an excellent preventative remedy for influenza and pains and illnesses of all kinds." In earlier editions of her book, they were also claimed to be effective against cancer.

Treben says that the formula was invented by a Swedish physician named Dr. Samst. Unfortunately, her book does not give any more details about this doctor other than the fact that he lived to be a "ripe old age, thanks to the help of his Swedish bitters."

Recipes vary. Treben’s book lists 11 herbs, including "manna" and "Theriak venezian." One of the herbs, aloe, can be substituted with gentian root or wormwood if aloe is not available. Dr. Arthur Tucker of Delaware State University reported a more complex recipe of a version of a "Schwedenbitter" mixture from Vienna in The Herbarist journal (No. 52, 1986). That recipe had 22 ingredients including "Theriak," but no "manna" is listed. All of the ingredients in Treben’s recipe were in the Viennese version.

Tucker reported that the "Theriak" of the Viennese version appeared to be raw opium. He did not confirm that suspicion by laboratory examination or analysis, but it would not be inconceivable that opium is used because "Theriak venezian" is never given a botanical name, only this obscure name which of course would serve to cloak the presence of opium, if indeed that is what the product contains.

In his report, Tucker refers to other scholarship on "Theriac" which seems to suggest that "Theriac" is a general term used for a variety of medicinal potions going back to at least the third century B.C. A related compounded mixture dating from the second century B.C. called "Mithridatium" was used to counteract poisons, venoms, and to treat various ailments. According to Tucker, the version invented by Celsus had several shared by the Schwedenbitter formula including calamus, gentian root, opium, saxifrage, myrrh, medicinal rhubarb, and saffron.

As for "manna," which was not listed as such in the "Schwedenbitter" formula, there is also some confusion as to its true identity. Treben’s book does not give the botanical identity. From other medicinal herb references we know that "manna" commonly refers to one of two herbs: the dried sap of the manna ash tree, Fraxinus ornus, of southern Europe, or the dried resin of the "Bread of Heaven" tamarisk tree (Tamarix mannifera). The latter was believed to be the food of the Israelites during their 40 years wanderings. It forms in beads of the size of coriander seeds that solidifies over time and fall to the ground. Whether either of these two is the "manna" used by Treben is unclear. Neither species is listed in the formula reported by Tucker; however, the Viennese recipe had an ingredient that Tucker could not identify called "Terra Pip" which could be the same beads of the tamarisk tree that fall to the ground.

I see you sell Swedish bitters already prepared so I assume you sell the herbs needed to make it.

Our Swedish bitters mixture is not manufactured by us. It comes to us as a proprietary medicine mixture which as far as we know follows the formula used by Treben. Unfortunately, we do not know what the manufacturer uses.

Back to Medicinal Herbs and Their Uses | Q & A Index

Copyright © 1997-2019 Otto Richter and Sons Limited. All rights reserved.