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Mama Juana is a drink from the Dominican Republic that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is quite similar to port wine and the color is a deep red.
The specific herbs that make up Mamajuana were originally prepared as a tisane by the native Taino Indians, and post-Columbus, alcohol was added to the recipe. Besides being rumored to be an aphrodisiac, with many natives of the Dominican Republic claiming that the drink has similar effects, Mamajuana is also consumed for its medicinal value. The alcohol is said to act as an extract base that pulls the herbs' curative properties, creating an herbal tincture that is often served as a shot. The reported positive effects on health vary, ranging from a flu remedy, to a digestion and circulation aid, blood cleanser, and kidney and liver tonic.
Origin of the name 
Mama Juana (or mamajuana) comes from the English word Demijohn, which refers to a large squat bottle with a short narrow neck, usually covered in wicker. The word is thought to be derived from the French Dame Jeanne (Lady Jane), a term still used to describe this type of bottle. In the Spanish speaking countries, Dame Jeanne was transformed into "damajuana", or Dama Juana and later, in the Dominican Republic, into Mama Juana (mother Jane). For this reason it is easy to see why there are many different variations of recipes to make Mamajuana, since the name refers to the container/bottle originally used to prepare and store the maceration, rather than to the finished product itself.
Mama Juana was invented in the 1950's by Jesus Rodriguez, a native of the Dominican Republic. Jesus Rodriguez was a musician and was known for playing accordion for Tatico Henriquez, a childhood friend and popular musician in Dominican Republic at the time. Jesus was granted the nickname "mamajuana" by Tatico and was recognized by other Merengue acts such as El Trío Reynoso and El Cieguito De Nagua. Tatico Henriquez several years later, died in a car accident in Santiago, Dominican Republic. As the drink became more and more popular for its medicinal purposes, the government under President Rafael Trujillo seeked out the inventor of Mama Juana. Jesus Rodriguez was threatened that if he did not give his ingredients to the government, he would be arrested and sent to prison. In the 1970s, He fled the country to the United States, in Staten Island where he received his Visa and his legal alien Social Security number. He relocated to Delancey Street in Manhattan, but spent most of his life living in Far Rockaway, Queens. Rodriguez later lost his life to severe Sepsis and Kidney Failure in 2013. The exact, original recipe was not documented and to this day has remained an enigma. Similar recipes have been passed down by generations, and eventually the ingredients over-time have changed.
Basically, Mama Juana is a mixture of bark and herbs left to soak in rum (most often dark rum but the use of white rum is not uncommon), red wine and honey. The solid ingredients (local leaves, sticks and roots) vary from region to region but usually include some of the following:
- Anamú (Petiveria alliacea)
- Anis Estrellado (Illicium verum)
- Bohuco Pega Palo (Cissus verticillata)
- Albahaca (Ocimum basilicum)
- Canelilla (Cinnamodendron ekmanii)
- Bojuco Caro (Princess Vine)
- Marabeli (Securidaca virgata)
- Clavo Dulce (Whole Clove)
- Maguey (Agave spp.) leaves
- Timacle (Chiococca alba)
In addition to the above standard recipe, it is common for individuals to add other ingredients such as cinnamon, raisins, strawberry, molasses, and lemon or lime juice. The concoction is usually kept at room temperature and served in a shot glass. As with many other alcoholic drinks the longer the maker lets it sit the better it tastes.
Recipes for what to do with this concoction vary a bit, but common advice from Dominicans is to first remove the bitterness from the elements above by soaking in red wine for a week or so, turning every once in a while, then throwing the wine out. Then, fill the bottle of soaked bark/herbs with 1/4 honey and 3/4 dark rum, possibly adding vanilla, ginger or cinnamon sticks if you like those flavors. After a few days, drink, then repeat the honey/rum mixture until the flavor of the bark/herbs disappears. Some say you can do this 15 to 20 times, while others say a single concoction of bark/herbs can be used for years.
Mamajuana is commercialized in two ways; 1. bottle (or a bag) with the ingredients, a do-it-yourself version. You need to take care of the curing and maceration process yourself. 2. Ready-to-drink, a finished product which has undergone the complete process and afterwards it is filtered and bottled.
Media related to Mamajuana at Wikimedia Commons