After months of planning and celebrating the holiday season, most of us could do with a little recuperation. This year, find your balance again by brewing and sipping tasty, healing tonics. These elixirs, made using the know-how of ancient alchemy, not only bolster mind, body, and spirit, but they’re also fun to make and delightful to drink.
When we think of alchemy, we probably picture robed men mixing mysterious concoctions, perhaps aiming to turn lead into gold. But that picture doesn’t even begin to depict the significance of this wise and healing practice. Historically, some of the world’s most brilliant minds were attracted to the spiritual science of alchemy: Sir Isaac Newton, the highly influential English mathematician and physicist, used alchemy to conduct early chemistry experiments; Jabir ibn Hayyan, the famous Arab physician and chemist, described extracting gold from other metals using lead (which is perhaps why his name is thought to have inspired the word “gibberish”); and Lao Tzu, the renowned Chinese philosopher, is known as the father of alchemy in ancient China.
These great men were attracted to the way alchemy bridged the gap between nature, science, health, and spirituality, and perhaps they also saw it as a progressive way to live. Alchemists believed in improving quality of life for themselves and others, and they used meditation and breathing techniques as they turned herbs into healing drinks. As they prepared their elixirs, they followed seven precise alchemical operations in order to ready themselves for higher levels of awareness. For instance, step one was calcination, or cooking with fire to burn away negative thoughts; step two was dissolution, or steeping in water to dissolve negative feelings.
In other words, alchemy was a type of “asana,” or outer work, with a greater, spiritual purpose. “Both Western alchemy and Eastern yoga have much in common in the way they approach personal and spiritual transformation,” says Dennis William Hauck, the San Jose, California–based former president of the International Alchemy Guild and author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Alchemy. “They share the basic mindset that you can be your best self through a series of specific steps or operations. They also share the fundamental principle of achieving divine perfection [a state of nirvana] by the union of the personality with the soul, then eventually with the spirit or universal life force. And in both disciplines, this union takes place on the physical as well as spiritual level.”
Because alchemy directly connected people to the divine without the aid of Christianity, the church in Europe outlawed the practice in the 15th century. Throughout the continent, alchemy was forbidden because forgers and con artists, called “puffers,” faked having special powers and pawned inferior metals lightly coated in gold. Still, many true alchemists risked their lives and careers to continue studying alchemy in secret, and today we have their texts, mostly written in code. In terms of symbolism, The Da Vinci Code has nothing on alchemy! Although these esoteric practices were left behind in favor of the practical industrial age, modern scientists like Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung became interested in alchemy and have since translated the ancient texts, and in so doing have uncovered the benefits of the practice in today’s world.
Brew Your Way to Better Health
Now free from the confines of secret labs, alchemy is surging into the modern culinary and wellness scene. Case in point: new and popular recipe books, such as Alchemy in a Glass: The Essential Guide to Handcrafted Cocktails and Natural Beauty Alchemy: Make Your Own Organic Cleansers, Creams, Serums, Shampoos, Balms, and More. Indeed, crafting your own curative tonics is a great way to get the gains of alchemy and create a deeper spiritual practice. The herbal ingredients are believed to provide not only longevity, but also vital energy, or a sort of natural intelligence that improves the potency of the plants’ meditative work.
Each elixir in the recipes is infused with seasonal spices and edible plant extracts designed to help you energize on dreary grey days, remain calm during hectic family gatherings, ward off seasonal sicknesses, or kick up your late-afternoon concentration. To make each herb-infused drink more festive, feel free to add alcohol spirits. Either way, the drinks come together quickly, taste amazing, and will have you ringing in the New Year in good health. Cheers to that!
A classically trained chef, certified yoga teacher, and a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Jennifer Iserloh is the best-selling co-author of 50 Shades of Kale.