I recently read the book, Just the Tonic: A Natural History of Tonic Water by Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt. As you know, I also wrote a self-published book about the history of the Gin & Tonic, but mine doesn't have the rich illustrations of this handsome hardbound book - and this book brings forth a lot of new-to-me information about quinine, tonic water, and its use in alcoholic beverages.
As this book was written by actual botanists/herbalists and published by Kew Gardens, they brought to light a few things I missed or on which I was mistaken. It also confirmed many theories I was iffy on.
This blog post is some of my notes from what I highlighted in the book.
- Humans learn about medication from plants by observing self-medication by wild animals. (This hadn't occurred to me.)
- Cinchona was often confused with another medicinal tree, the quinaquina or Peruvian balsam. (I thought cinchona was the same as quinaquina.)
- Talbor's remedy also contained opium.
- Cinchona bark as a cure for fevers contradicted Galenic medicine - fevers should be treated by cooling remedies, but the bitterness of bark means that it is a heating remedy.
- Some additional treatments for malaria pre-cinchona included gentian, agrimony, and barley water.
- There are 25 species of cinchona.
- Quinine is still used in some cases of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- The Hippocratic corpus assigns different mineral waters distinct properties for different maladies.
- Up to the 1760s aerated waters didn't contain sodium bicarbonate. Richard Bewley (of Bewley's Mephitic Julep fame) found that sodium bicarbonate helped the absorption of fixed air (carbon dioxide).
- Cinchona was not only used to treat malaria but also dysentery, sore throat, toothache, smallpox, tremors, and (externally) baldness.
- **Cinchona bark in various beverages and medicines functioned "as a tonic" (this was before tonic water became associated solely with cinchona), which is basically non-essential medicine that helps strengthen the body generally rather than treat specific diseases. The electrolytes of its day, I suppose.
- The authors have found an earlier first reference to quinine soda! Everywhere I've seen lists Erasmus Bond's 1858 patent for Pitt's Tonic Water. But they found an 1835 advertisement for a quinine soda water produced by Hughes & Co.
- Tonic waters initially contained sulfuric acid, which was later changed to citric acid - both of these help dissolve the quinine alkaloids.
- The authors found new references to quinine mixed with gin (Netherlands 1841), arrack (India and Ceylon 1863), and in the rum ration about British ships (recommended by James Lind - solver of scurvy) implemented in 1803.
- Jerry Thomas' Bon Vivants Companion lists a recipe for fever drops that include Peruvian bark.
There is a lot more from the book I'll take away to use for my purposes (especially on tonic and soda water's early use in cocktails) but these are just a few highlights.
If you're a G&T fan, you should most definitely buy the book!