To the untrained eye, the landscape of Harris appears beautifully barren, all bare rock, tough lichen and harsh heather. But, a wide variety of plant-life clings on here in the face of high winds and a hard salt-sea air.
Once upon a time, we were connected closely to the flora found on our machair, moor and mountains, intimately understanding their potential for producing poultices and potions.
With limited access to doctors, our remote communities would turn to local men and women with special knowledge of the properties of these indigenous plants, passing down what they knew from generation to generation.
From simple healing broths like ‘cal dheanntag’ made from nettles and ‘cal duilisg’ made from seaweed, to ‘sealbhag’ (sorrel) and ‘corr-meile’ (bitter vetch), there were many natural remedies to rely upon.
But, the arrival of the modern world meant that much of this insight has sadly been lost and with it a little of our connection to the island we call home.
While searching for the defining ingredient for our Isle of Harris Gin, we began to rediscover the potential of our local plants and we want to continue to explore and experiment with even more of the botanicals which abound here.
To help us do this, we’re delighted to deepen our working relationship with plantswoman and herbalist Amanda Saurin of A.S. Apothecary who created our original Sugar Kelp Aromatic Water. Originally based in Sussex, Amanda was inspired to relocate to Harris last year…
“I came here for several reasons. I came to find a little peace, a place to still my mind, to stop the racing, to restore my equilibrium. I came because I wanted to create a refuge for friends and family, somewhere to walk, rest and eat well. I also came here because I love it!”
Now settled in the village of Northton in south Harris, Amanda and her husband are busy renovating an old house, bringing their croft land to life and running the much loved Temple Cafe near their home.
We’re also taking advantage of her island time and apothecary talents to create a new range of bitters, tinctures and tonics to complement your favourite Isle of Harris Gin serves and other classic cocktails.
Always made seasonally and in small batches, the first of these to be released is the Harris Wild Rose Tincture. As Amanda explains…
“It’s something really special as it captures a particular moment when several experiments came together rather beautifully. When I moved here I noticed how many Rosa Rugosa were growing - it is originally a Japanese Rose that thrives on the coast in sandy soil, unperturbed by a little salt in the air.”
“The roses line the route through my village and extend onto the machair at the end of the road. They are not a rose to distil, the petals are too flimsy, but the scent is fantastic so I worked out a gentler way to capture the scent by macerating them in a little raw cane sugar. Every evening I popped out and gathered a few until I had sufficient to work with!”
The tincture also contains Bergamot she picked in Cyprus, peeled and dried gently in the sun for 3 days. There are Elderberries macerated for around 6 months and beautiful Sloes aged slowly in alcohol to acquire a flavour a little like brandy.
Then came the blending at the end of 2019…
“I constructed things very much like perfume…I decided on the proportion of top to middle and base notes and then once happy made the final blend. This is why these creations will be so special, they are made from pure plants and each ingredient captures a particular harvest and treatment. It is a wonderful alchemy to bring them all together.”
Limited to just 394 bottles, simply add the tincture as required to your Harris G&T and Martinis to create subtle new variations on your drinks as well as providing a pleasing light pink hue.
There will be more to come as the seasons continue to unfold, with machair flowers such as Ladies' Bedstraw, Clovers both red and white, Thyme and Meadowsweet and, of course, Heather. And then there are all the local seaweeds…
We’re looking forward to sharing the bounty of these sustainable harvests as they are made here with love, craft, and care. Each one will capture a brief moment of time in wild Harris and connect you to this beautiful island in a wonderful new way.
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HARRIS WILD ROSE BITTERS