It’s one of the nation’s favourite drinks that even has its own day of celebration. We’re not talking about Coca-Cola or Guiness, but rather Gin and Tonic. With an assortment of flavours and hundreds of ingredient combinations, after some exploration, you’re bound to find your favourite.
There are, of course, many classic cocktails to choose from, whether that be a Martini or Margarita, Manhattan or Bloody Mary. But Gin and Tonic is different. Mainly because it’s easy to prepare but it’s also different because it has an interesting history and was once used to cure malaria.
But what is it inside this modest cocktail that makes it a cure to malaria?
Malaria has a long history in Europe but was eradicated in the 19th century and even then it wasn’t nearly as fatal as it was in more tropical locations. As Europeans established colonies in the tropical lands, they faced a mortal threat from diseases spread by mosquitoes.
In the seventeenth century, the Spanish had discovered that native people in what is now Peru used some form of bark to cure various “fevers”. This bark, stripped from the cinchona tree, proved to work well for malaria. The bark, dubbed ‘Jesuit’s bark’ quickly became a favoured treatment for malaria in Europe.
Whilst this discovery may seem rather primitive or troglodytic, at the time the current cure for malaria involved throwing the patient into a bush in the hope that he would run out quickly enough to ‘leave his fever behind’.
It later became clear that the cinchona bark could be used to treat malaria, as well as prevent it. The reason why this natural remedy worked was due to the bark’s active ingredient, quinine powder. Quinine is a powerful medicine that was shifted to the forefront of malaria prevention and treatment across Europe.
This drug became a vital part of maintaining good health across the British Empire. Soon, the British citizens and solders in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark per year. Quinine powder kept the troops alive and allowed officials to survive in wet and low-lying regions of India where malaria was prevalent.
The only problem? Its taste.
In an effort to combat its bitter taste, British officials stationed in Indian took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar. As we know it today, the first version of ‘tonic water’ was born. It wasn’t until 1858 when Erasmus Bond introduced the brew commercially, at the same time that the British government expelled the East India Co. and took control of India.
Bond’s new tonic was followed by the launch of Shweppes’ Indian Quinine Tonic, which was targeted at the growing market overseas. Indian Quinine Tonic and other commercial tonics proved a big hit in colonies overseas and, eventually, back in Britain.
It was only a matter of time before a colonial official took his daily dose of quinine tonic with a shot or, more often than not, two shots of gin. It was only natural to mix these two together instead of having a a bitter glass of tonic in the morning and a healthy gin ration in the afternoon.
And so the Gin and Tonic was born and its cool and crisp concoction could, as Churchill observed, start saving all those English lives.
Whilst we’re on the topic of Gin and Tonic, here are some of its other health benefits.
It’s natural. Gin’s main ingredient is Juniper berries, others include coriander, sage, cassia, nutmeg, rosemary, caraway and angelica root. Gin is essentially a herbal remedy.
It can help you to live a longer life. Gin can prevent heart disease which is quite intelligent, for a drink!
It will make you feel less bloated. Juniper berries increase production of urine which helps you to digest and pass water more easily and provide a short-term relief from any bloating feelings.
It could be good for your skin. Juniper berries are packed full of antioxidants that reduce wrinkles and promote healthy skin appearance.
Your insides will be soothed. As well as smoothing your skin, Juniper berries contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation and gas.
Who knew that Juniper berries could be so beneficial for our health!
So as you mix your next one, whatever flavour it might be, remember its curious history and consider whether it is a drink, or a drug in your hand.