19th century “Elixir of Long Life” uncovered at construction site

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NEW YORK, NY (WPIX) — Was the “elixir of long life” buried for more than a century in Chinatown?

A 19th century bottle found at a hotel construction site on the Bowery could hold the secrets to keeping the Grim Reaper away — or at least getting a quick buzz.

WPIX-TV reports that the bottle was among several that turned up at the former location of a German beer garden on 50 Bowery in May, DNAinfo first reported on Monday. Two of them caught the attention of preservationists, who decided to track down the original recipes of the concoctions.

Alyssa Loorya, the president of Chrysalis Archaeology, a cultural resources management firm that led the pursuit, said that one vial had curious German lettering: “Die Keisserliche Privilegirt Attonatiche W. Kronessents. ” Colleagues in Germany translated its rough meaning as “The Royal Kaiser Privileged Altona Essense.” Research determined it contained an alcohol-heavy elixir that supposedly promoted good health and long life.

The other bottle of interest was “Dr. Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters,” a popular medicine during the Civil War that was sold to soldiers as a “a positive protective against the fatal maladies of the Southern Swamps, and the poisonous tendency of the impure rivers and bayous.” It had such a high percentage of alcohol — 47 percent in the original formula — that it was served as a drink at bars.Irene Plagianos of DNAinfo.com concocted the long-life elixir herself, and described its taste as bitter.

Due to its strong taste, our forefathers might have just taken a few drops of the formula at a time, or mixed it with even more alcohol, she said.

Below is the recipe for both elixirs, as well as the steps on how to concoct the brews yourself, as described by DNAinfo.

Elixir of Long Life:

  • Aloes: 13 grams
  • Rhubarb: 2.3 grams
  • Gentian: 2.3 grams
  • Zedoary (white turmeric): 2.3 grams
  • Spanish saffron: 2.3 grams
  • Water: 4 ounces
  • Grain alcohol (vodka, gin): 12 ounces

Squeeze out the liquid from the aloe and set aside. Crush the rhubarb, gentian, zedoary and Spanish saffron (for a modern twist, use a blender for this part), and mix them with the aloe liquid, water and alcohol. Let the mixture sit for three days, shaking frequently. Then filter it using a cheesecloth or coffee filter, and serve. Be careful with the liquid — the saffron can dye your hands or other kitchen items.

Dr. Hostetters Stomach Bitters:

  • Gentian root:1.5 ounces
  • Orange peel : 2.5 ounces
  • Cinnamon: 1/4 ounce
  • Anise: 1/2 ounces
  • Coriander seed: 1/2 ounce
  • Cardamom seed: 1/8 ounce
  • Un-ground Peruvian bark (cinchona): 1/2 ounce
  • Gum kino: 1/4 ounce
  • Grain alcohol (vodka, gin) – 1 quart
  • Water – 4 quarts
  • Sugar – 1 pound

Mash together the gentian, orange peel, cinnamon, anise, coriander, cardamom and Peruvian bark. Mix the crushed ingredients with the gum kino and the alcohol. Let the mixture sit in a closed container for two weeks, shaking occasionally. Strain the mixture, add the sugar and water to the strained liquid and serve.


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