Juniper communis or juniper was used in ancient Egypt because of its medicinal properties. There are records on papyrus from the 1550 BC suggesting that the herb is treating the headache and mixture of berries and oil treats parasitic infections.
In the 4th century BC Aristotel writes about the juniper as a cure. However, the most recent records of the strength of boronic treatment we owe to “Pliny the Elder” who lived in the 1st century AD. His masterpiece “Naturalis Historia” (77-79 BC) speaks of botany, astronomy and medicine. Juniper, says he, can cure stomach pains and even “snake bites”. Also, it is good for treating the bladder infections, abdominal pain and even cramps. Mixture of white wine and juniper must be consumed.
Gin as a medicine?
Galen wrote in the 2nd century BC that the fruits of the juniper were “pure material from the kidneys and liver” and “moderately stimulated urination”.
The real progress towards today’s gin comes in the 11th century when science of distillation comes to Europe. The monasteries were places for research and quest and the monks were more focused on the medicinal properties of the drink than the properties of which, if we are to be honest, we can get drunk. At that time the monks distilled the “water of life” or “aqua vitae”. It is important to note that these drinks for the monks had a symbolic power and they were trying to associate them with the medicinal properties of then known and used plants. Although there are no detailed records, we can assume that they have been experimenting with juniper that has grown in Italy in abundance and to which older generations had previously attributed medicinal properties.
By the middle of the 14th century Europe was affected by “helplessness, agony and horror”. The plague spread was unstoppable. “The Bearded John” or John of Burgundy wrote the book “Epidemic Treatment” that soon became a hit across Europe and translated into many languages of the time in Europe. In it, “Bearded” suggested that the main cause of the epidemic is “bad air”. The solution to the problem was the burning the juniper whose combustion smoke would protect from the infection. The demand for pinewood throughout Europe was as huge as well as the desire of the inhabitants to escape the horrors of the plague.
In this “time of death” the religious “water of life” became more widely available, but people soon realized that besides the healing properties of the drink, you can also get drunk as well. Although the authorities tried to stop such practices, they did not succeed. The reason was a little “ice age” that appeared in the 16th century, and because of which the crops were weaker.
The wine became more expensive and the poorer ones had to be satisfied with “juniper juice”. Alcoholic beverages were croude and juniper perfectly concealed undrinkable spirit. In the 17th century, the book, “The London Distiller,” written by John French, mentions a combination of juniper, angelica, anise and other ingredients as “water for the sting”.
JUNIPER ON THE COAST AND THE SEA
The great problem with sailors was scurvy disease. 1750 god. James Lind, a Scottish physician through experimentation, has discovered that the disease can be prevented by regular consumption of lemons. At the beginning, lemon was preserved by mixing with rum, but by the further development of science it was discovered how to conserve lemon juice using sugar.
The invention of Lauchlan Rose has become the standard medicine on all the royal navy ships. It was called “Rose’s Lime Juice”. The officers on the boats mixed it with the gin and ordinary sailors with their portions of grog (a mix of rum and water in a ratio of 1: 4).
In 1820 German Doctor Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Stewart, who then lived in Venezuela, in Angostur harbor, seeing all the power of ships in port, recalled a good business plan. He created a bitter recipe that later advertised as a remedy against “sea sickness”.
A little help of gin helped the bitter drug easier to pass. And here’s a combination of gin and bitter. One drink came out of need, Gin & Tonic, but that cocktail is so important to the story of gin that we will give it a special article.
Scientists at the University of Zagreb confirmed in 2005. that essential oil Juniperus Communis has certain antibacterial and antifungicidal properties. At the same time, scientists in Macedonia have found that the local variety of Junipers oxycedrus trees has identical properties. You can download the report from scientists from our University of Zagreb HERE.
Literature: Gin, The Art and Craft of the Artisan Revival by Aaron Knoll, Gin, The Manual by Dave Broom, The Drunken Botanist, The Plants That Make The World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart