Mindful drinking. Health-conscious cocktails. Low and no ABV cocktails and spirits.
These are the trends exploding in the marketplace today. What, where and when are the true origins of this mindset though? The ancient cultures and eras, from Egypt to China, Rome & Greece to the Americas, show us how deeply the history of alcohol as medicine is rooted. We are now nestled in this resurgence of plant medicine that is being crafted into various alcohol explorations, from fermentation and distillation to sipping and cocktailing. Whether it is Kombucha or a botanically spirited beverage that found its way into your cup, you have joined the journey of medicinal mixology!
Beginning at the beginning with the meaning and ideology behind Medicinal Mixology, let’s start by breaking down the terms. Mixology. Do we relate this to making cocktails? Yes, and the meaning of the word extends far past cocktails. It can be easily explained as “the study of blending two or more ingredients together to create a new substance.” This broadens the term outside of the spirits’ world to encompass any endeavor where a new solution is created through blending. Medicinal. This is tricky as the word medicine has many meanings and inferences.
Is it a pill, shot or liquid that is administered when sick? Is it supplements, herbs, and foods that prevent illness? Or is it a healing protocol that makes a person feel better during any part of a health cycle? All of the above is true. So, for our purposes of making beverages for joyful imbibing, medicinal (pertaining to medicine) within mixology (blending those interesting substances to create a new, unique blend) offers a landscape of opportunity for the creative and curious.
“Alcohol in antiquity provided both nutrition and needed calories, a trading commodity, a medication, an analgesic, a social lubricant and played a role in religion.” This is one of my favorite musings of alcohol’s role in our society, as stated by David J. Hanson, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York in Potsdam. Hanson traces back a timeline of fermented and distilled liquids to before 10,000 BCE, noting alcoholic beverages which were made from berries and honey. Different traditions and types of fermented beverages emerged across cultures worldwide.
For example, evidence of a Chinese fermentation made of rice, honey, grapes and hawthorn berries dates back to 7000–6600 BCE. Rice is a caloric staple, honey; an antibacterial liquid and energy booster, while grapes and hawthorn berries act as heart and blood nourishers, creating a wonderful health tonic for the ancients to enjoy. Egyptians used beer as a staple as early as 4000 BCE to avoid the heavy bacterial load of the local water. In fact, mothers in Egypt would send their children to school with plenty of bread and beer for sustenance throughout the day. In Roman history, the wives of soldiers are said to have sent their warriors off to battle with a shot of wine and borage oil (an herb believed to possess fortitude-giving properties) to ensure victory. Stories similar to these continue, involving the Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Persians, Sumerians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians… and the list goes on.
Preservation of plant medicine has been a used as a healing modality for many moons. Bitters & tinctures (plants macerated in alcohol) are an excellent way to harvest fresh plant material during one time of the year and preserve it for later use with the active healing constituents intact. Another form of carrying plant medicine to the body is through activating the needed elements via water (teas, infusions, decoctions) and is appropriate for present time medicine. Sweetened plant medicine (honeys & sugars) can assist in not-so-yummy concoctions of potent medicine. Atomized hydrosols (through steam distillation of plant material) will add layers of subtle healing in beverages to enhance any experience.
Medicinal Mixology in execution is a delightful process of flavor combination and conscious attention to beneficial ingredients with limitless possibilities! A cocktail or non-alcoholic beverage can be layered to focus on a particular organ or system within the body (respiratory and immune system health anyone?) or smattered with ingredients that support various paths of helpful healing.
The tools for medicinal mixology are plentiful, with bitters and tinctures high on my list to create layered flavors within a compact mode of liquid distribution. Sweeteners (especially honey) are fantastic carriers of plant medicine for the flavoring focus of a drink. Teas, infusions and juices are an addition that lengthens the drink as well as bringing flavors to a balance.
This introduction to medicinal mixology is just that. An introduction… to the endless magical world of plants, who play well with multiple modes of expression for the benefit of all! Further exploration is required and reachable through herbal resources for inspiration and creative curiosity. Continue the thread of conscious imbibing, enjoying the wonder of how each added ingredient can complement the cocktail, while adding a story of plant medicine to each and every experience.
More Medicine Ma’am!
- 1 1/2 oz. whiskey of choice
- 1/2 oz. rosehip tincture (3:1 rosehips:high proof NGS)
- 2 bar spoons Palo Santo smoked wildflower mountain honey
- 7 drops Cocktail bitters of choice
- 3 spritzes of black sage hydrosol
Garnish: black sage, rosehips, pineapple guava half, curry plant sprig, glass dipped in Palo Santo smoked honey rolled in Ceylon cinnamon, ashwaganda, ginger, cacao, trumeric, black pepper, triphala powders.
Preparation: Build all ingredients in a mixing tin and stir with love. Roll the cocktail glass in the powder doused honey and garnish with gusto.