Salt of the Earth: The Bitter End
Before there was a pill for everything—all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, in fact—botanical matter was steeped in alcohol to create medicinal extracts. The practice of making these herbal infusions was further developed during the Middle Ages, when distilled alcohol and pharmacological alchemy converged. Known as bitters, tonics and elixirs, these potent combinations of plants, barks, roots and fruits were intended to fight disease, cleanse the blood and aid digestion. Bittering agents such cinchona bark, gentian, barberry root and hops flowers are known to stimulate the production of saliva, gastric juices and bile. Aside from their healing properties, bitters are delicious. A few dashes are often used to balance cocktails, but they are also a wonderful addition to beer, tea, coffee, sauces, baked goods, sorbets and whipped cream. When creating your own, just remember that a spoonful of sugar—or honey, molasses or maple syrup—helps the medicine go down.