Researchers who ask indigenous healers how they determine that a particular plant or combination of plants has a medicinal benefit are understandably skeptical when the response is that the plant told them what it was to be used for. So it’s not surprising that scientists are at a loss to explain how Amazonian people discovered that chuchuhuasi is an effective cancer preventative, a pain-reliever, an anti-inflammatory and a stimulant. Oh, and a powerful aphrodisiac as well.
What is known about chuchuhuasi’s history is that it was a key ingredient in what’s been called the world’s first cocktail: El Draque. In 1586, one of Sir Frances Drake’s privateering excursions for the English crown was derailed when his crew members became ill.. The boozy tonic that locals helped Drake cobble together included bark from the chuchuhuasi tree, mint leaves, lime chunks, sugar cane juice, and rum. In other words, crew members were prescribed a mojito which included chuchuhuasi. Crew members were cured... and likely buzzed.
A chuchuhuasi infusion (recipe below) is a popular addition to cocktails, particularly in Peru. People also drink the infusion by itself, often balancing the tartness by adding honey. By itself, the infusion has the flavor of sour cherries.
These days, a virtual trip to the Amazon is all you need to get this bark. Just point a web browser to Amazon.com (or some other site), and you can have chuchuhuasi bark shipped to your house.
A word of warning: Since the infusion is a stimulant, it may be a great addition to a cocktail when you're day drinking, but it's not a good choice as a nightcap.
Recipe for the chuchuhuasi infusion:
Put 2 ounces of chuchuhuasi bark in a quart canning jar.
Add 100 proof vodka to fill.
Screw on the lid and let macerate for two weeks.
Strain out the bark.
Recipe for El Draque:
2 ounces Cuban Rum
10 Mint Leaves
2 teaspoons Sugar
1 Lime, halved, then quartered
1 ounce Chuchuhuasi Infusion
Put mint, sugar and lime chunks in a cocktail shaker or tall glass.
Muddle with a muddler or wooden spoon.
Add 1 ounce chuchuhuasi infusion.
Pour into a tall cocktail glass filled with ice.
Top with rum and stir.
Note: The infusion itself is often sold as a cocktail in many parts of the Amazon: