"If the world falls down around you, collect local herbs and make anise-flavored Nectar.”
Dining at a restaurant, with the bill the waiter will bring you shot glasses of Hierbas. That's when you know you are in the presence of real Mallorquins. When we were clearing out our house that we sold in Andratx, we found a bottle that dates back at least 25 years.
One of the first years in the house, our friend, Nancy, took us on a walk. In spring or early autumn in Sa Coma, near Andratx, we would pick the anise from the side of the road. She would move us forward slowly, take orange and lemon leaves plus a lemon for the peel, gather some pine needles and take a few seeds. She’d lean over and pick wild fennel and mint. If she couldn’t find one of the 26 ingredients on our walk, we’d pick it up at the Market in Andratx on the following Wednesday
This bottle celebrated birthdays, sympathized with deaths and ended long dinner party nights. A time or two found us with this bottle at sunrise before giving up the ghost of the night. Like a good fruit compote, we kept adding to the original bottle over the years. How sad we were when one day we found we had lost the original 3 x 5 notecard with her recipe. Fortunately, we remembered the key 10 or so ingredients. From then on, they would have to do …
When Nancy died, we took the bottle with us to a birthday party of her friends. We set a place for Nancy with her photograph. Over the next few hours, we ate, talked and drank to honor her friendship over four and a half decades. For a good and proper send-off, we toasted with the Hierbas. Then, we prepared a folded paper napkin full of a sweet offering and made our way down to the Port. Watching the napkin float off with a candle, at sunset, we sang a little song then went back to the restaurant to gather our things. In front of Nancy’s photograph was the lost recipe, in her handwriting, for Hierbas.
History of Hierbas #
It was the Arabs who discovered the process of alcohol distillation, a technique Venetian traders brought to Europe. Christian monks who had a long tradition of cultivating herbs for medicinal uses in their monasteries made ample use of the technique. In Mallorca, although Moorish rule forbade alcohol consumption for religious reasons, distillation of plants and herbs for medicinal purposes was allowed.
When Christians took over the Balearics, the healing herb liquor became more and more popular as stills were set up in monasteries all over of the island. Ramon Llull, at Santuari de Cura near Randa, helped further develop the distillation techniques. By the end of the 18th Century, about 180 stills were counted on the island, producing the astounding quantity of approximately 750,000 litres of liquor per year, sixty percent of which were consumed on the Island.
The rest brought home by travelers to the mainland of Spain or exported, mostly to South America. To satisfy increasing demand, several big distilleries were founded in Mallorca, some of which produce the famous Hierbas even today.
Through good and bad times, Hierbas has been the traditional drink on Mallorca. It has a protected designation of origin – Herbs of Mallorca (Majorca) - and can only be made on the Island. Made ‘sec’ or ‘semi,’ sweet or dry, depends on the fermentation process. The alcohol content is more the drier the designation. Fair warning: This stuff will have you dialing rehabs in future years if you aren’t careful!
Just don't drink and ride!
Hierbas Recipe #
Dry and sweet anise liquor (proportion of mixture depending on your taste preferences; we use 60% dry and 40% sweet)
- 2 leaves of rocket
- 1 branch of wild fennel green (spent flower)
- 4 chamomile blossoms
- 2 tips of marjoram
- 2 tips of juniper
- 4 juniper berries
- 2 lemon tree leaves
- 1 strip of lemon peel
- 10 lemon flowers
- 1 sage leaf
- 3 coffee beans (roasted)
- 3 pepper corns
- 1 star aniseed
- 1 small green laurel leaf
- 10 rose leaves
- 1 nasturtium flower
- 1 branch of chamomile
- 1 branch of savory
- a few linden blossoms
- 3 to 4 pine needles
- a few pine seeds
Every Mallorcan family has their own recipe, and there are many possible variantions to this list. Also, it all depends on how you like your Hierbas, so it’s well worth experimenting with quantities and ingredients, leaving out ingredients you don’t like and maybe using a little bit more of what you do like. However, please consider that these plants are very aromatic. More does not always mean better. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Here is a list of ingredients you could also add: rosemary, mint, peppermint, lemon verbena, pomergranate fruit and leaves, hypericum, wild thyme, oregano, vine leaf, green carob, green almond, wild carrot, myrtle, lavender, blackberry…
Traditionally, Hierbas is prepared in spring or early autumn. Carefully stuff all ingredients into a big glass bottle, leaving the fennel flower till last. Once that’s done, pour in the alcohol, cork the bottle and leave it in a cool and dark place. Then be patient. You have to wait a minimum of three months until your Hierbas is ready. Don’t throw your herbs out when the bottle is empty. It can be refilled at least one more time.
Commercial Production #
If you find yourself around Marratxi, in the Raiguer Region, take a tour and see how Hierbas is made commercially. Túnel is a recognised name in the competitive cycling world, with their own team competing in the Balearics, Spanish and World Masters Championships, wearing the distinctive Túnel teamwear:
Affordable Mallorca Tip: If you have any allergies to alcohol or an addiction problem, no matter how medicinal this product might be, this drink is not for you!
#HierbasDeMallorca #Mallorca #Majorca
By Memphis Holland
7 February, 2023