With one foot in Africa and the other in Europe, it’s no surprise that Elephant Gin’s botanical blend makes use of the world’s most magical plants. Here are the stories behind the plants and herbs that feature in September's Craft Gin Club special edition.
With a sharp citrus taste and three times the vitamin C of an orange, baobab is a super fruit that happens to be a favourite of our elephant friends.
Called ‘the upside down tree’ because of how its tangled branches resemble roots, it’s said that the god Thora took a dislike to the baobab tree growing in his garden. He threw it over the wall of Paradise, but it continued growing even after crashing upside down on the earth below.
Kings would hold meetings at this mystic tree’s base in the belief that spirits living in the branches would guide their decisions. Nearly indestructible by fire or axe, some believe that drinking water infused with baobab seeds protects the drinker from crocodiles.
Buchu’s use as an herbal remedy stretches back generations, and its aromatic scent is intoxicating and instantly recognisable. But the specifics of that scent vary from person to person – our genetics determine how Buchu smells to us, and the scent that some find fairly standard others will find a little strange.
While buchu’s scent is beguiling, its taste resembles something altogether more familiar: the humble blackcurrant.
Prized by traditional healers for its antiseptic properties, buchu was brought back to Europe by colonising powers and infused with brandy. This ‘buchu tea’ was popular in Europe through the 1860s and 1870s.
Bitten by a snake in ancient South Africa? No doubt your local healer would turn to Lion’s Tail, a plant with brilliant spikes of orange flowers and a central place in folk medicine.
Used to treat everything from tuberculosis and dysentery to jaundice and high blood pressure, this distant cousin of cannabis can also be dried and smoked as a substitute for tobacco.
The root of this odd plant is prized for its healing properties. Introduced to Europe in the early 1900s, the Khwe people of southern central Africa have been using it as long as anyone can remember to soothe aches and pains. Its incredible aroma and bitter flavour are an integral part of Elephant Gin’s botanical mix.
Said to have sprouted in the serpent’s wake as it slithered out of Eden, wormwood has a knack for curing intestinal worms. A common sight in South African herb gardens, it was believed to counteract the poisons of hemlock, toadstools and sea dragon bites – but you might have better luck rubbing it on sore feet.
The apple in Elephant Gin couldn’t be fresher; it’s sourced from the orchards that surround the distillery.
A common ingredient in love spells, fresh apple introduces a crisp and sweet note to Elephant Gin. In medieval Germany, a man who ate an apple saturated in the sweat of his beloved was more likely to win her heart; in England, on the other hand, the oldest apple tree in the orchard was called the Apple Tree Man and served as a guardian.
The pine used in Elephant Gin is cut in the Salzburg mountains, where women weave fir wreaths decorated with paper roses and small mirrors to ward off demons as they herd their cattle down from upland pastures for the winter.
This unusual botanical complements the juniper notes in Elephant Gin and had a past life as a sure-fire cure for a toothache; simply take two pine splinters, push them into the gum surrounding the aching tooth, then bury the splinters in a hole on the north side of a dogwood tree.
Chosen over lemon peel for its rounder flavour, Elephant’s orange peel is sourced from Spain. Here it plays an integral role in the folk tradition of queimada, where orange peel and coffee beans are soaked in traditional pomace brandy and set alight. As the mixture burns, an incantation is said to release the participants from evil spirits.
In ancient Wales, the juniper tree was considered so sacred that any woodcutter who chopped one down could expect to die within the year; in Germany the tree was more benign, and burning juniper berries throughout the house would fumigate the house and welcome summer.
Elephant Gin sources its Juniper from all across Europe – primarily in Macedonia, Hungary and Tuscany – to maintain quality all year around.
THE REST OF THE WORLD
Also known as allspice, pimento was one of the treasures the Spanish came across as they explored the New World.
Elephant sources its pimento from Mexico, where it was used by the Mayans to cure meat and flavour chocolate. In the Arawak tongue, meat cured this way was called boucans – later settlers who cured meat in this way came to be known as ‘buccaneers’.
With its characteristic warmth and spice, ginger is famous for its stomach settling properties. Its usefulness was believed to extend past that by some cultures; the Melanesian islanders of the South Pacific used this fragrant spice to win the affections of women, while the people of the Dobu Island chewed ginger to ward off illness and wind storms.