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L’Orvietan is a bitter, an after dinner digestive, obtained from the maceration in a hydroalcoholic solution of over 25 herbs. The name, L’Orvietan, refers both to the original inventor and to its place of origin.  The first “Orvietan” was Girolamo Ferranti who on June 9, 1603 obtained the license for its sale on the public market from the City of Orvieto.

The fame of L’Orvietan spread to all the principal marketplaces of Europe, conquering both the people and the nobility. Its far reaching popularity was connected to the figure of the itinerant venders of medicinal potions. It became particularly well knownin France where Cristoforo Contugi, who had inherited the secret blend from Ferranti, obtained the royal privilege and right to exclusively sell it from the Sun King, Louis XIV, in 1647. He then shrewdly used the sun as his logo.

“The user was told to take a quantity the size of a pea mornings, dissolved in wine or hot broth, or as a pill, and it would …. marvelously help your digestion, avoid stomach pains, difficulty in breathing, stop the vapors from rising to the brain …”

L’Orvietan was all the rage for around two hundred years, with various more or less secret formulas. In 1655 Johann Schröder published a recipe of his own for “L’Orvietan” in his treatise Pharmacopeia Medico-Chymica, after which it was the pharmacists who continued to produce this famous elixir. Pharmaceutical vases that bear the words “L’Orvietan” to identify their contents can be found in many of thehistorical pharmacies of Europe.

It seems to have been a universally known potion for protection against poisons, or even as a cure for love sickness. Reference to this miraculous concoction appears in Sir Walter Scott (Kenilworth and The Talisman), Molière  (L’Amour médicin), Voltaire (Pot-pourri), and Balzac (La Père Goriot) among others. It became so ubiquitous that up to the end of the nineteenth century the word “Orvietano” in the European dictionaries was defined as the “famous antidote invented in Orvieto.” Even Francis Parkman, author of The Oregon Trail, (La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West,1869) describes how Hennepin, a missionary who lived with the Sioux, “dosed (the Indians) with orvietan, the famous panacea of his time, of which he had brought with him a good supply.”

At the end of the nineteenth century, Le Paulmier and Planchon, two French pharmacists published various formulas of this famous panacea taken from old documents and pharmaceutical treatises. Recently in a new study published by the National Academy of Sciences Letters and Arts in Modena, Patrizia Catellani and Renzo Consoli established which elements, among the 35 formulas recovered, were to be used in an ideal recipe for “L’Orvietan”.

So now here you have L’Orvietan, bottled in its original and secret formula, once more part of the story of liqueurs and elixirs. To be downed in one draught or savored in small sips.