Some call it the baby maker, while others have nicknamed the drink “Viagra Dominicana.” Either way, the Dominican tonic made from brewed bark, wild herbs, and spices left to soak in wine, honey and rum has a reputation. The elixir, Mamajuana, is reportedly a fertility revitalizer.
This drink has roots with the Taino Indians, native to Hispaniola, and is one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas. But it wasn’t an aphrodisiac. The Taino brewed the mixture as a hot herbal tea. When Columbus arrived in the West Indies, the Natives began mixing the tea with European alcohol. It was a cure-all, purportedly able to soothe the flu, arthritis and headaches. The type of bark and herbs come from the native Tainos and have a myriad of health benefits. Once they are mixed with alcohol, the distilling of the wood is extracted. The longer the bark sits, the stronger the healing properties.
In the mid- 1900s, when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, banned the sale of the concoction without a medical license, Dominican grandmothers started brewing the mix in their kitchens while Mamjauana also gained credibility as a medicinal. The ban only helped to increase Mamajuana’s reputation and the drink became more popular. Today, tourists or traditional beverage enthusiasts can find bags of dried ingredients to DIY distill, bottles of already soaking bark, or a filtered version of Mamajuana in any shop or matriarchs cabinet.
There are a few traditional brew recipes and countless mixologists; some makers mix in molasses or strawberries. Jesus Rodriquez first introduced a branded version in the 1950s. Want to try your hand at making this Dominican liquid legend? There is no hard and fast rule on how to make Mamajuana, but according to Rodriquez, here’s exactly what you will need:
Bay Rum Tree
Coconut Palm Root
West Indian Milkberry
Stuff your bottle with the whole herb pieces and fill one-third of the bottle with red wine, one cup of honey and the remainder with dark rum, preferably Dominican.
The most popular way of drinking Mamajuana is as a shot at room temperature. The brew is surprisingly pleasant smelling, a mixture of pine and honey and some say like port wine. Beware of the bitter after note as you take it down the hatch. A word of advice: the filtered versions are noticeably smoother than the homemade batches. They can even be used as a base to cocktails like the Dominican Mule that combines rum, ginger beer, Angostura bitters and lime.
You can reuse your bottle of fermented Mamajuana herbs, for more than a decade some say, and gets less bitter with each distill. Take a couple shots of El Para Palo (or “lift the stick”) and let us know where the night takes you!