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Mama Juana (or mamajuana) 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 similar to port wine and the color is a deep red.
The specific herbs that make up Mamajuana were originally prepared as an herbal tea by the native Taino Indians; 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 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.
The term Mama Juana has the same French origins as the English word demijohn, which refers to a large squat bottle with a short narrow neck, usually covered in wicker. It 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). There are many different variations of recipes to make Mamajuana, since the name refers to the container or bottle originally used to prepare and store the maceration, rather than to the finished product itself.
Mama Juana was invented as a branded herbal medicine in the 1950s by Jesus Rodriguez. Rodriguez co-wrote the song "Mama Juana" performed by Tatico Henriquez and was later recognized by other merengue típico artists such as Trio Reynoso and El Cieguito De Nagua.
As the drink became more and more popular for its health benefits, the government under President Rafael Trujillo sought to arrest anyone who was selling Mama Juana without a certified medical license. In the 1970s, Rodriguez fled to the United States and relocated to Manhattan, New York. On May 26, 2013, Jesus Rodriguez died of septicemia and severe pneumonia.
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. Some recipes are said to include grated tortoiseshell, or sea turtle penis shaft for aphrodisiac effect. 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. It is also recommended that when making your own at home from a pre-packaged bark/root mix, you first cure the dry ingredients with white rum. Discard the liquid after a few days and then follow your rum, wine, and honey recipe. By doing this, the initial bitterness is released from the bark/roots, making for a more drinkable first batch.
Mamajuana is commercialized in two ways;
- prepackaged dry ingredients, which the customer cures and macerates
- ready to drink, filtered and bottled
- Nicolas J. Pilcher (2006). Proceedings of the Twenty-third Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, 17 to 21 March 2003, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Southeast Fisheries Science Center. p. 198. Retrieved 2 June 2013. "An informant expressed that tortoiseshell can also be grated and added to mamajuana bottles."
- Christopher P. Baker (7 December 2009). Explorer's Guide Dominican Republic: A Great Destination (Explorer's Great Destinations). Countryman Press. pp. 123–. ISBN 978-1-58157-907-9. Retrieved 2 June 2013. - "Herbs, and even honey (and sometimes fruits), find their way into the mix, as occasionally do marine turtle penises, said to impart the necessary qualities to turn mamajuana into a liquid Viagra."