An ancient history in a bottle

L’Orvietan is a herbal bitter obtained by macerating more than 25 medicinal herbs in a hydro-alcoholic solution, pressed by hand with small presses and then filtered through cloth, whose name identifies both the seller and the place of origin.
The first to call himself ‘L’Orvietano’ was Girolamo Ferranti, who on 9 June 1603 obtained his licence to sell in the public square from the Municipality of Orvieto.
L’Orvietan’s fame reached all the main squares of Europe, conquering both the people and the nobility.
Its widespread diffusion is linked to the figure of medicine peddlers. Particularly in France, where Cristoforo Contugi, successor to Ferranti and inventor of the symbol with the sun that he would use to wrap his medicine and distinguish it from the numerous imitations, in 1647 obtained from the Sun King, Louis XIV, a habitual consumer, an exclusive sales privilege that read as follows: “If one also takes the said Orvietano in the quantity of a pea in the morning on an empty stomach dissolved in wine or hot broth, or in pill form, it will corroborate the natural heat and marvellously aid digestion, and avoid stomach pains, difficulty in breathing, bad breath, and also prevent the vapours from rising to the brain, which could cause distillation on the chest”.
Success lasted for about two hundred years, knowing numerous more or less secret formulas.
In 1655, Orvietan was included by Johannes Schröder in his treatise on pharmacopoeia, thus passing the hand over to pharmacists who would continue the production of the famous elixir. In fact, there are numerous jars bearing the inscription L’Orvietan in the historical pharmacies of Europe.
Literature, too, amplifies its fame with numerous traces.
In the first version of Manzoni’s Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), when next to Lucia there was still Fermo, it is Donna Prassede who suggests its use. Molière also mentions Orvietan in his opera L’Amour Médecin, suggesting that it could also cure ‘lovesickness’. Voltaire mentions it in a short story, Leibniz in a letter, and Scott in two novels. And then again Balzac and Chateaubriand.
It was so widespread that until the end of the nineteenth century, in European vocabularies the word “Orvietano” was identified with “famous antidote invented in Orvieto”.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Le Paulmier and Planchon, two French pharmacists published studies and formulas on the famous preparation, recovering ancient and precious documents and pharmaceutical treatises. This is where Patrizia Catellani and Renzo Consoli, two scholars from the National Academy of Sciences, Letters and Arts in Modena, start again in modern times and retrace the entire history. Their new study establishes which elements to use among the 35 recovered formulas, thus defining the ideal recipe for Orvietan, which we offer you today in its original and secret bottled formula to rewrite a new drinking history. All in one breath or in small doses.


1601 Girolamo Ferranti the first Orvietano, shows and sells prodigious medicines in public in Paris.

1603 Ferranti obtains permission to sell from the Municipality of Orvieto.

1607 Ferranti obtains a licence to sell his antidote in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, Florence and Siena.

1622 First mention of Orvietano in non-medical literature in Tabarin’s ‘Inventaire Universel’.

1624 Giovanni Battista Pasini has the Modus Utendi Electuario Quod Orvietanum Dicitur printed in Padua.

1625 Louis XIII issues the ‘lettres de privilege’ for the sale of Orvietan.

1628 Cardinal Aldobrandini under Urban VIII issues the privilege of sale for L’Orvietano in all the states of the Church.

1629 Antonio Levantini obtains a bull from Urban VIII for the sale of the Orvietano.

1638 Friar Marco Aurelio Moretti experiments for the first time and provides the formula for his Orvietan.

1641 Abbot Secondo Lancellotti dedicates L’Orvietano per gli Hoggidiani to Cardinal Richelieu.

1647 Cristoforo Contugi is granted the exclusive privilege by Louis XIV to produce and distribute L’Orvietan throughout the kingdom of France.

1655 Schroder includes L’Orvietan in his Pharmacopoeia Medico Chimica.

1666 Jean Prevost includes a recipe for Orvietan in his pharmaceutical treatise.

1667 Antonio de Sgobbis da Montagnana includes L’Orvietan in his Nuovo et Universale Theatro Farmaceutico.

1667 Simon Paulli prints the new edition of the Quadripartitum Botanicum and includes no less than five recipes from the Orvietan.

1674 Pharmacia Lugdunensis Reformata is the first pharmacopoeia written by a medical college and the Orvietan recipe is included.

1676 Moyse Charas writes his prescription for Orvietan in the prestigious Pharmacopea Royale Galénique et Chymique.

1680 The term Orvietan is included in Pierre Richelet’s Dictionnaire François.

1681 Christopher Contugi dies.

1686 Louis XIV confirms exclusive sales and production rights to his son and widow Contugi.

1688 The Pharmacopea Bateana inserts the recipe for Orvietan

1689 Felice Passera prints his Il Nuovo Tesoro degl’Arcani Farmacologici with five formulas of Orvietan.

1691 Giovanni Danese obtains permission from the Faculty of Medicine in Vienna to sell L’Orvietan in the Austrian city.

1697 Nicolas Lemery includes L’Orvietan in his splendid Pharmacopee Universelle.

1714 The leaflet Virtù dell’Elettuario Triacale or Orvietan is printed in Parma.

1731 Public preparation of the Orvietan in Paris in solemn and official form.

1734 Public demonstration in the Hospital of Dijon.

1762 Antoine Baume includes two Orvietan recipes in his Elements de Pharmacie

1821 Sir Walter Scott describes the preparation of Orvietan in his novel Kenilworth.

1825 Once again Sir Walter Scott describes Orvietan in his new short story The Talisman.

1844 Honoré de Balzac mentions The Orvietan in his novel Modeste Mignon.

1892 Gustave Planchon publishes a historical study, Notes sur l’Histoire de L’Orvietan.

1893 Dr Claude Stephen Le Paulmier publishes an extensive research paper on L’Orvietan.

1951 Alberico Benedicenti publishes Malati, Medici e farmacisti.

1954 Essay by Anton Giulio Bragaglia published in the bulletin of the Istituto Storico Artistico Orvietano.

2004 Patrizia Catellani and Renzo Console publish the most important study on the origin and recipes of Orvietan, indicating the formula for producing the ideal Orvietan.

2008 David Gentilcore publishes Illness and Healing.

2009 Lamberto Bernardini begins the collection of Orvietan documents.

2011 Alberto Satolli presents his historical research on ceramics for L’Orvietan in Orvieto.

2011 Sandro Bassetti publishes L’Orvietan, historical research, Medicina Universale 1504-1828.

2015 Lamberto Bernardini begins the production and sale of L’Orvietan in Via Duomo 74 in Orvieto with the valuable collaboration of Dr. Patrizia Catellani, Dr. Renzo Console and the herbalist experience of Aurelio Visconti.

2016 Sabrina Minuzzi publishes her essay Sul filo dei segreti (On the Thread of Secrets) and makes the Venetian story of the Orvietan known.

2019 Laura Calderini publishes the story Le disubbidienti del San Zaccaria.

2019 Lamberto Bernardini moves production to Orvieto’s cliff at Vicolo dei Dolci 6, Piazza del Duomo.

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