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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 a 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 purported 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, sexual potency, 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 is considered one of the first distilled spirits in the Americas, even before rum. This is plausible considering that Christopher Columbus mixed European alcohol with the Taino Indian's herbal tea and this created mamajuana.
During the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, the sale of mamajuana was prohibited. The law stated that a medical license was required to sell mamajuana.
Mama Juana was popularized as a local herbal medicine and aphrodisiac in the 1950s by Jesus Rodriguez, a native of San Juan De La Maguana. Rodriguez would commute with others in trucks to Barahona, Azua, Pedernales, and many other provinces in the Dominican Republic to collect the stems needed to create the medicinal drink. He would often use Carne De Carey (Tortuga) which was the active ingredient that made the aphrodisiac. Rodriguez eventually would be known under the moniker "Mamajuana" by many of the locals, Tatico Henriquez and other merengue típico artists such as Trio Reynoso and El Cieguito De Nagua, who were close friends of Rodriguez.
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 available in three ways:
- Prepackaged dry ingredients, which the customer cures and macerates
- Ready to drink, including the ingredients in the bottle
- Ready to drink, filtered and bottled
The most common way of consuming mamajuana in the Dominican Republic is neat or as a room-temperature shot. With the popularization of ready to drink brands, there has been a growing interest for mamajuana amongst mixologists. Many on-premise establishments now offer mamajuana recipes in their cocktail offering.
In recent years, the consumption of mamajuana has seen a sharp rise, with commercial brands becoming available in the Dominican Republic and internationally. Ready to drink brands such as Karibú, Spicy, Tremols and Kalembú can be purchased in duty free shops, resorts and liquor stores. Premium brands, such as Candela, are exported and sold internationally.
- 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."
- "What is Mamajuana?". Mamajuana. 2017-04-13. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
- "About Mamajuana". Candela. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
- "Mamajuana Cocktails". Candela. Retrieved 2017-04-17.
- "Our Story". Candela. Retrieved 2017-04-17.