The G&T on safari. A drink to good health!


This malaria-plagued story starts in Africa, under the canopy of a vibrant green fever tree (Vachellia xanthophloea), with a G&T in hand. How the much-loved safari drink came to be is quite literally the world’s history in a bottle (and a can).

african fever tree sketch

Sketch: Graham Kearney

The African fever tree, immortalised by Rudyard Kipling’s “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all
set about with fever-trees”, was erroneously believed to be the cause of malaria in Africa. Early colonialists who slept under the tree often contracted fevers; little did they know that both the fever trees and Anopheles mosquitoes love water – which is how this folk tale came about. While some believed the tree was a killer, the Zulu people used the roots and bark as a prophylactic against malaria.

gin and tonic

Photo: ClemenGold

The true cause of malaria, a parasite, would only be discovered in 1880 by the French physician, Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran. Seventeen years later the real vector of the disease, the mosquito, would be revealed by British medical doctor Ronald Ross.

In recent years artisanal gins and microbreweries have mushroomed as this drink has surged in popularity. South Africa’s Western Cape, well known for its wineries, boasts one of the singularly most interesting floral kingdoms in the world, and the local gin distillers have taken notice. Award-winning local gins can now be found across Africa, including the island of Saint Helena, with popular South African brands including Musgrave, Inverroche, ClemenGold, D’Urban and Six Dogs.

Before you clink your glasses it is worth remembering that tonic was medicinal and has been the known cure for malaria for quite some time…

Tonic water

The true fever tree is the South American cinchona. Its journey into medicine, and then mixology, reads like the Elizabeth Gilbert novel, The Signature of All Things, peppered with botanical pharmaceuticals, inventors, ships, discovery, disease, war and expansion.

tonic water

Botanical Drawing: Hermann Adolf Köhler

here are numerous claims as to how and when this Peruvian shrub was discovered, and details are inconsistent. However, there are some significant events worth noting. One account relates that in 1638, the Countess of Chinchón, the wife of a Peruvian viceroy, was cured of a fever using cinchona bark.

Despite not knowing where cinchona bark (also known as Jesuit’s bark or Countess’s powder) came from, its usefulness in curing fevers was appreciated in European society for a full century before Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, classified the plant in 1732. In 1820 two scientists, Pierre-Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou, isolated an alkaloid chemical in the bark that provided the highest antimalarial effect, and named it quinine. It was then marketed as an antimalarial drug. In 1858 the first commercial tonic water was manufactured.

The cinchona tree is native to the tropical Andean forest of western South America. The most sought-after varieties for the quinine content are the Cinchona ledgeriana and Cinchona succirubra. The Dutch were able to procure the ledgeriana variety and started farming it in Java. Later this would give rise to the quinine agreement in 1913, setting the price for the bark and creating the world’s first pharmaceutical cartel.

While Jesuit’s bark was establishing itself in medicine, gin had been wreaking havoc in London society since the early 1700s.

Gin, once known as Mother’s ruin

Just as the British tried to lay claim to the Cape of Good Hope from the Dutch, they also tried to claim
the invention of gin from the Netherlands. The origin of gin began in Holland – if you don’t take into account the Italian monks who were thought to have used juniper berries to flavour their distilled spirits in the 11th century. By the mid-17th century genever, a distilled malt wine infused with juniper berries, was a popular cure for kidney problems, stomach ailments, gallstones, and gout. Juniper (Juniperus communis), the main botanical in gin, is an aromatic conifer that occurs across northern Europe.

gin botanical

Photo: MPF

Gin was introduced to the English during the Eighty Years’ War when they fought alongside the Dutch. Its popularity increased after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when William of Orange took to the English throne.

A gin and tonic on an African safari is complete and utter botanical bliss!

Up until the 1830s the story of gin manufacturing was rather murky – contents were particularly questionable among the poorer in drinkers in London. Irish distiller Aeneas Coffey then revolutionised the distilling process to create a cleaner, purer spirit, giving us the London Dry Gin we know today.

During the same period, British soldiers serving in India were given quinine to help prevent malaria, and in a Mary-Poppins-moment, discovered that adding sugar and water to the tonic, followed by gin and a lime wedge, helped the bitter medicine go down. This delightful trick quickly spread to other colonies in malaria areas via ship.

British naval officers were given ‘rum rations’ of ‘navy strength gin’ (57% ABV) to keep up the moral.
A British navy doctor started mixing gin with lime in order to make the citrus (known to prevent scurvy) easier to swallow, and today this cocktail is known as a gimlet.

Win a ClemenGold Gin Hamper


Photo: ClemenGold

Win one of five ClemenGold Gin hampers to the value of R600. The hamper includes a 500ml bottle of ClemenGold Gin, dried ClemenGold rings for garnish, and two glasses.

Check out the Safari News Facebook page (@SafariNews) for details.  Competition closes 24 May 2019.

How to avoid being bitten by Mosquitos on Safari

Avoid being bitten by mosquitoes by turning off your lights, using mosquito nets, applying bug spray and wearing long-sleeved clothing and pants that prevent your ankles from being exposed. And keep the fan on.

Malaria, a case of Jungle Fever

More than 100 countries around the globe have malaria mosquitoes, putting half the world’s population at risk, despite eradication efforts. Most malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The tropical disease is curable and preventable. Five parasite species cause malaria in humans, with Plasmodium falciparum becoming drug resistant, and the cause of cerebral malaria.

Malaria is a cyclical infection that needs both the female Anopheles mosquito and a human host as part of its life cycle. Once a patient is bitten by an infected mosquito, the parasite grows and multiplies in the liver cells before moving into the red blood cells. The parasite continues to grow in the red blood cells, releasing daughter parasites, and destroying blood cells in the process. At this point the patient usually starts to experience a fever. While active in the blood, the parasite can be ingested by feeding mosquitoes. The parasite breeds in the gut of the mosquito and then migrates to the salivary glands to infect a new host and so the cycle continues. Today, synthetic prophylaxis is used to prevent malaria, but quinine still has a role to play in modern medicine.

By association, a G&T is a popular drink during safari sundowner sessions in Africa, should you be looking for some extra Dutch Courage.

gin and tonic

Photo: ClemenGold

WARNING: Both the malaria parasite and alcohol can damage your liver. Modern day tonic waters won’t
save you; it is recommended you take prescribed medication when travelling to malaria areas.

Written by: Georgina Lockwood 

Copyrights 2018 Safari News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. 


Leave A Reply