Plague Waters – Mythology?


Plague Waters – Mythology?

Bar None

with Debbian Spence-Minott

Thursday, April 23, 2020

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I know you read this week's headline and did a double take. If your reaction was true to form, then I am happy your interest has been piqued. You see, Bar None readers, the concept of plague waters is not novel, originating in the mid-17th century; the term's earliest use was found in the Distiller of London.

What is a

A plague water is a singular remedy against a particular pestilence. Historically, the term plague water is an infusion of herbs and roots steeped in alcohol and taken as a remedy against the plague. Plague water was one of the many forms of medicines used by people in hopes of avoiding a grisly death from the bubonic plague. Although many medicinal potions of the 1700s were relatively effective, having been tried and tested by local herbal healers, the modern understanding of bacteria and vector-based diseases were not part of early modern medical theory. Notwithstanding, some of these medical potions held their pride of place in normal everyday living. It is true that there are some herbal cures that are good for some illnesses and some of these cures are still being researched today for their antibacterial properties.


While we may not refer to our own unique Jamaican concoctions as plague waters, they do parallel the concept. Millennials may be oblivious to some of our local cures, but if you have lived with an elderly family member or were raised in rural Jamaica, local roots and leaves were definitely a part of your upbringing. Traditionally, we have developed our own cocktail cures for different ailments such as the cold, fever, influenza, pain/arthritis, dysmenorrhoea, diarrhoea, and so on. Last week, I did a bit of my own qualitative research by asking individuals to share their spirited cocktail cures. Interestingly, these mixtures tend to have no names assigned to them only the ingredients and their specific purposes. These are a few of the responses I received:

1. Rum, Lime Juice and Honey — used for the common cold

2. Honey, Garlic and Lime — used for the common cold

3. Gin and Salt — used for the cessation of diarrhoea and nausea

4. Warm Brandy and Milk — used for relaxation and digestion

5. Marijuana leaves soaked in white overproof rum — the liquid is used to sop areas of the body that are in pain. A tablespoon of the mixture is said to be good for menstrual pain

6. Overproof rum — alleviates sinus issues, when s0pped against forehead, relieves any tension aches/headaches. For more local mystique, used to ward off evil spirits at blessings, funerals or even to sprinkle the four corners of a construction site to remove 'the crosses'

7. Boiled Lime Leaves (as tea) — used for recovering from the effects of hangovers

8. Ginger and Garlic — used for issues relating to the stomach and hypertension

9. Ginger, Peppermint, or Turmeric — used to relieve what Jamaicans classify as 'colic' — the real term is sulphur burps

10. Fever Grass or Lemon Grass (as tea) — used for treating fever

11. Leaf of Life (as tea) — used for respiratory issues such as asthma, and bronchitis

12. Warm Lemon Water (as tea) — used for the reduction of fat found in the mid-section

13. Hot Beer or Pepsi — used to reduce issues relating to gas and bloating

14. Eucalyptus or Peppermint tea — used for dysmenorrhoea

15. Warm Lemon Water, Cayenne Pepper, Garlic and Cloves — to build the immune system

Now, even though many of us live by these cures, always heed the advice of the trained medical practitioners. Remember the adage 'belief kill and belief cure'. The thing about epidemics/plagues/illnesses is each one is actually two diseases running in parallel: the thing that could possibly cause irreparable harm if left untreated, and the thing that infects the mind with worry and nervousness, sorrow and helplessness, boredom and misery. If by sticking to your home remedies you do feel a bit of relief, then continue to soothe your minds; the strengthening of the mind will be needed to make it through this chaotic time. Until next week, keep safe and stay inside!

Readers' Grapevine Club: If you are new to wines and want to join us on our wine discovery, then this is for you. On the third Thursday of each month, I will highlight your feedback on our grape variety/vine of the month. The Grapevine of the Month is chardonnay. There should be a bottle somewhere lying around the house. Share with me your feedback on what you thought about the wine and your overall wine experience.

Grapevine of the Month: Chardonnay

Readers' Feedback:

Extraordinary wonder and joy are interwoven through ordinary life; seek them relentlessly. Please share with me your wines, spirits and cocktail experiences or comments on the above article at, or follow me on IG @debbiansm #barnoneja.

Debbian Spence-Minott

An Alumna of the US Sommelier Association

CEO of the Academy of Bartending, Spirits & Wines

President, Jamaica Union of Bartenders and Mixologists (JUBAM) Limited

Marketing Studies Lecturer — The University of Technology, Jamaica

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