Sometimes when I am browsing the web site of an herb merchant, a name strikes me as interesting. At Wild Weeds I came across Ashwagandha root. An intriguing name that sounded rather Ayurvedic, I looked into its properties. It turns out ashwagandha has some well-documented health advantages.
That’s a nice side-benefit, but for my purposes I was interested in the taste. I found that Ashwaghandha tastes quite a bit like ginseng, and indeed, it is sometimes called Indian ginseng. It’s also called “poison gooseberry” because it is a member of the nightshade family, but then so are potatoes. The poisonous alkaloids of these plants are concentrated in the leaves, flowers and stems. Ashwagandha’s taste reminded me of that of another root I had on hand, Astragalus, one of the 50 basic components of traditional Chinese medicine, where it is called huáng qí. I use astragalus in the winter to ward off colds, but here I thought was an opportunity to make an interesting soft drink like ginger ale.
Recipes for ginger ale are pretty common on the web, and they are all very similar. I like the flavor of ginger, but I wanted to add a twist to the usual, by employing my formula for soft drinks that calls for a root, an herb, a berry, an acid, an oil, a sugar, and a juice. I guessed ashwagandha berries were out.
The recipe for Ashwagandha Ale turns out to be rather complex, and in consequence so does the flavor. Starting with a generous amount of freshly grated ginger root, I added ashwagandha, astragalus, lemon, key lime and Seville orange juices, Inca berries, passion flower leaf, and the zest of lemon and Seville orange. Evaporated cane juice provided the sugar, and for additional flavor complexity I included some grape tannin, and finally potassium bitartarate that I had collected by cold conditioning chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc wines.
This is really tasty stuff, and an immune system booster as well! Very aromatic as you would expect a ginger beer to be, but with citrus overtones. The tartness of the citrus juices and berries can carry a lot more sweetness than my usual recipes, without becoming cloying. I only regret that I made just four liters!