While in the Dominican Republic recently there was much talk and hype of a beverage called Mama Juana (mamajuana). Our tour operator warned us about it as there are rules for bringing it back home and there are various variations of the drink. I had to try it while I was there and was shocked by how potent it was. A small shot of this beverage and I was totally looped. So I had to do some research and find out everything I could about the Dominican legend known as Dominican Viagra.
What is Mamajuana? (Mama Juana)
This drink unique to the Dominican Republic and Haiti is a rum, red wine and honey mixture soaked in a bottle with various tree bark and herbs. The drink evolved from its early form as a herbal tea prepared by the Taino Indians, which included water with different tree bark and herbs. In the post-Columbus era, alcohol was added to the recipe.
The mixture of bark, tree leaves and herbs varies depending on the region in Dominican or Haiti. There are various versions of the drink including the following types of vegetation:
- Anam· (Petiveria alliacea)
- Anis Estrellado (Illicium verum)
- Bohuco Pega Palo (Cissus verticillata)
- Albahaca (Ocimum basilicum)
- Canelilla (Cinnamodendron ekmanii)
- Bojuco Caro (Princess Vine)
- Marabeli (Securidaca virgata)
- Clavo Dulce (Whole Clove)
- Maguey (Agave spp.) leaves
- Timacle (Chiococca alba)
How is Mama Juana made?
The bark and herb mixture soaked with dark rum (40% Proof or 20% alcohol) or red wine and in some cases a ma combination both. The herbs and bark soak in this for several weeks, and the liquid is removed, and honey, fresh rum and red wine are added again. There is a debate as to how many times the mixture is reused some say indefinitely, others ten years, others more specific from 2 – 6 times. The more times the herbs and bark are soaked in the alcohol and honey mixture, the less bitter the mixture tastes. Some versions include ginger, cinnamon and vanilla; there is no right or wrong recipe.
Mama Juana is named after the English word Demijohn and from the French Dame Jeanne (lady Jane) (Source: Wikipedia.org) which refers to the large bottle with a narrow neck. Vendors in the Dominican told us it was named because of it being an aphrodisiac and the short form for “Mama do you wanna?”
Mama Juana – Dangers, What Tourists need to know?
Variations – when buying the concoction be sure you are buying it from a reputable souvenir store or distillery, in a sealed bottle. Some of the vendors on your resort’s beach have home-made variations with dangerous barks and in some cases shellfish. Be sure you are buying your mamajuana from a hotel store or souvenir shop to ensure you are getting the adequately packaged version. The bottle to the left was a home-grown mixture I had on an excursion to Saona Island, and I have no clue what was in it. A scary thought now especially since it affected me so fast and I was quite hammered with just one shot!
Strength – The combination of the dark rum known in the Dominican as Gasoline mixed with wine and soaked in the bark and herb mixture makes this drink very potent. It should only be ingested in small shots, and you should limit the number of shots you have. Overconsumption of this beverage can lead to alcohol poisoning if too many shots are taken at one time.
The Mama Juana legend – Dominican Viagra and Medicinal Cure-All
Aphrodisiac – Liquid Viagra
- Mama Juana is sold to tourists with stories of it being a powerful aphrodisiac and a medicinal cure-all.
- It is often referred to as Viagra Dominica, Dominican Viagra and liquid Viagra.
- Most of this talk is probably a “tourist experience” as there is no scientific evidence to support the claim.
- One thing for sure this strong drink will break down your inhibitions pretty quickly due to its potency!
Medicinal Uses of mamajuana
Again there are no official claims as to the medicinal properties of the Mama Juana drink. Many Dominicans believe that the beverage can cure:
- flu, blood sugar and diabetic issues, organ health and joint pain relief.
- Mixtures using cinnamon are said to help stabilize blood sugar and aid with those who have diabetes. (How a sugar-based alcoholic beverage can help anyone with Diabetes is a flag for me.)
- Cloves are said to help with pain killing.
- Honey has been a natural remedy for centuries, and Dominicans believe it can improve symptoms of flu and to boost energy.
Taking Mama Juana home to the US or Canada – What you need to Know.
Mama Juana is bottled in two ways. The first with just herbs and tree bark for you to take home and mix the rum and wine yourself and the second a ready to drink version which has been soaked and prepared for you.
Both US and Canadian customs do not permit the transport of Mama Juana if it is not in its liquid. If you take dry mama juana ingredients home with you, be warned, Customs may confiscate it. U.S. customs officials appear to be wise to the beverage and will ask you straight out if you are bringing back Mamajuana. Those with liquid versions are subject to the alcohol importing restrictions of their customs office, but those with dry ingredients may be confiscated on the spot.
Canada Customs regulations are: “Prohibited items: [Firearms, etc.] … and PLANTS, animal products, meat, food and PLANT MATERIAL IS SUBJECT TO CERTAIN RESTRICTIONS AND FORMALITIES. The importation of fresh fruit is prohibited.” Mama Juana in its dry form is considered a plant or animal product (as customs told us that bugs could be in the bark and leaves of the dry version). However, the alcohol content and soaking of the leaves and bark kill any bugs that may be in the liquid version of the drink.
While Canadian Customs may not ask you directly if you are carrying the dry ingredients, failing to report their transport whether you are aware of the rules or not, is subject to confiscation and a possible penalty for not disclosing.
Mama Juana (mamajuana) – Conclusion
I think this drink is a tourist draw. Personally, I enjoyed my two shots, which knocked me on my ass so fast that it scared me. It is a very potent drink and indeed part of the Dominican experience but know what you are getting yourself into before you partake in the beverage. I have no clue what was in the version I took. Thankfully I lived to laugh about it. Believe what you want about its legendary claims and enjoy some fun in the Dominican Republic — with a side of caution!