07 Aug Switzel, a Better Drink for Summer Hydration!
According to folklore from upstate New York farm communities, there is a beverage known for its superior ability to refresh and regenerate an individual after a long day of physical farm work in the late summer heat. The name was called Switzel (also known as Swtichel), and today I am going to break down its properties from a Chinese Medical Perspective.
Like many folk remedies it is hard to trace back its origins and the original recipe. In all honesty, it seems reasonable to assume that the recipe migrated north from Pennsylvania Dutch to upstate New York, and there are probably as many versions of the recipe as there were farm wives who made it. For the sake of this article I’ll be discussing my family’s recipe, but please remember that ratios and ingredients were often changed to satisfy one’s own preferences (I have seen recipes where the molasses and vinegar ratios were switched).
The basic recipe consists of four main ingredients that are well preserved and available to common farmers a hundred and fifty years ago; vinegar, molasses, ginger and water. From a Chinese Medical perspective, there are very good reasons for the excellent rehydrating and replenishing properties of Switzel.
First, in Chinese Medicine, sweet and sour foods generate fluids and act to strongly rehydrate a person. These fluids will help clear the heat (the inflammation, lactic acid, and toxins) that may have accumulated from heavy physical labor or time in the summer sun.
The Ginger will Release the Exterior and Harmonize the Wei (the most superficial aspect of the body) and Ying (the middle level of the body) Levels. Let me translate… Release the Exterior here means to open the pores. This allows the heat that has accumulated throughout the day to leave the body.
Harmonizing the Wei and Ying Levels means that the resources from within the body can more easily be used to help the exterior’s resources that may have been damaged by heat or lost through sweating.
The Molasses and Apple Cider Vinegar contain trace minerals (electrolytes) which help move fluids into the cells of the body, more thoroughly increasing hydration. Additionally, molasses nourishes blood and helps the muscles repair themselves while replenishing lost energy (don’t think Western Medicine here – think of “blood” as the total aggregate of the body’s resources (oxygen, sugar, nutrition, etc.)). Even in Western thought, though, molasses contains a relatively high amount of nutrition and boasts a moderate glycemic load for a sweetener.
Finally, the sourness of the vinegar will direct the benefits of the beverage to the Liver. The Liver is a thick, viscous organ that can be easily damaged by heat and lack of hydration. The Liver stores blood and Yin and plays a major role in nourishing the muscles and sinews. If the Liver gets overly taxed, this can lead to insomnia, muscle cramps, fatigue and other issues of liver blood deficiency.
Switzel is an excellent concoction to fight the natural problems that arise from the heat of summer or extended physical activities. When compared to commercial sports drinks, Switzel is a more natural (food based), nutritious, and less expensive way to replenish oneself, and it has the added ability to not only hydrate, but to also release the accumulated heat. Maybe it is time for Switzel to be the official drink of the International Folk Art Market.
My Family’s Switzel Recipe:
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup molasses
2-3 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger
5-6 cups water (you can add or replace part of the water with soda water for a fizzy version)
Mix together and serve cold. You can adjust the amount of water to taste.