The consumption of alcohol for social, ritual, medicinal, and religious purposes appears to be widely spread through history and societies. In centuries past, alcohol used to be prescribed by doctors as a cure-all, mostly based on no scientific proof. Instead of anesthesia, alcohol was commonly used to knock patients out or to lessen the pain before say, an amputation.
Doctors experimented with treatments that today would seem gruesome – bloodletting, leechings, cold water baths. Due to yellow fever in New Orleans around 1853, people thought the city was cursed and after thousands of deaths, people were willing to try anything, such as mercury injections or bloodletting. Cure-alls may have consisted of gold pills pooped out, reused, and passed down through the generations. At the beginning stages of pharmacies, cocaine and heroin were mixed with a little soda at the local fountain – once a family affair.
Due to the absence of other options, the medical field also used alcohol as therapy during the Spanish influenza epidemic and as a treatment for pneumonia…. eventually leading to the ban in several countries around 1920-1930. However, US doctors were permitted 100 prescriptions for “medicinal whisky” per 3-month period, which one source says amounted to 1.8 million gallons in 1927.
Believe it or not, wine or gin was once considered a remedy to cure the Great Plague – perhaps to rid the body of the virus, protect the body by warding off the virus, or ease the mind. Vino and booze most likely helped people sleep. Today with the 2019 novel coronavirus we can sit comfortably in our homes sipping wine or cocktails to ease the pain of our idleness – something most of us take for granted.
Recently I discovered another “cure-all” on my travels to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean still used today. This sweet rum-based drink Mamajuana is soaked in tree bark and herbs and infused with red wine and honey. Over time this concoction is thought to cure everything from the flu to prostate and ovarian disorders along with increase vitality – like natural Viagra. The herbal tincture goodness is thought to also help aid digestion and circulation, and cleanse the blood, liver, and kidneys.
At the adults-only TRS Turquesa Hotel in the Dominican Republic, try a Mamajuana tasting at this all-inclusive resort. We sampled 3 varieties beachside – homemade, spicy, and the premier Candela brand aged in oak barrels. My favorite blend was the spicy version soaked in chili peppers with a nice throat burn – sure to kill any germs.
As you can imagine, across the Dominican Republic, people invented their own version of the drink, varying herbal choices. Since the country had so many varieties, President Trujillo chose to control the production and sale of Mamajuana deciding that only those with a certified medical license could produce and sell Mama Juana. Now the National Libation of the country, the drink was legitimized as a national medicinal elixir.
In the airport and TRS Turquesa Hotel and TRS Cap Cana Hotel, we found many other varieties – some soaked in cocoa and various intriguing spices. The Bear Hug Infusion is Barbados rum infused with mangoes and natural flavors. Some places sell the bottles with just the herbs and bark inside. Some wait for it soak for 24 hours while some increase the potency by waiting a week or months.
Get creative your own rum blend at home by filling an empty bottle with your own dried herbs and spices, then fill with your own choice of rum and soak overnight. Although typically consumed as a shot at room temperature, Mama Juana can be used in cocktails. Try making a New Fashioned with the following ingredients.
For our social wellbeing during this coronavirus pandemic times, it would be nice to have some Mamajuana readily available during these lockdown days. Salud!