After reading about Damiana - the interesting herbal liquor from Mexico - in David Rosengarten's book Taste many years ago, I made a mental note to find some of this stuff and give it a try. Well it has taken several years for me to finally come around to procuring a bottle and I've done a little bit of experimenting with it over the past couple of days.
In his book, Rosengarten recommends adding "a few drops" to a margarita (made with 1/1/1 lime juice, Cointreau and blanco Tequila -my house standard, FYI) for "an authentic Mexican touch"
According to Damiana's website:
Damiana Liqueur is a light herbal-based liqueur from Mexico. It's made with the damiana herb that grows in Baha California, Mexico. It has great mixability and tastes great as a shooter. The bottle is uniquely shaped and is modeled after an Incan Goddess. The Damiana Margarita is very popular in the Los Cabos area of Mexico and Mexican margarita folklore says that the very first margarita ever made was made with Damiana Liqueur (not that silly French liqueur).
Given the wealth of information on the Damiana shrub available elsewhere, the website is fairly disappointing in its cursory depth on the subject.
According to the Wikipedia entry, Damiana (Turnera diffusa, syn. Turnera aphrodisiaca) is a shrub native to Central America, Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean. It is a relatively small shrub that produces fruits that are similar in taste to figs. The leaves have traditionally been made into a tea which was used by native people of Central and South America for its aphrodisiac effects. Damiana today is conventionally made into a tea and is used to treat conditions ranging from coughs to constipation to depression. The herbal supplement is reputed to help with Fibromyalgia, energy, emphysema, low estrogen, frigidity, hot flashes, impotency, infertility, menopause, Parkinson's disease, PMS, inflammation of prostate, and Lou Gehrig's disease.
Interesting enough, but to quote a famous Monty Python tagline, what's it like? On its own, the liqueur is a bright yellow, and gives off an interesting aroma of herbs. It's hard to distinguish exactly what's going on here, as I really have no reference. On the palate, I get some interesting bitter herbs, notions of Galliano (although it does not have an overt licorice or anise flavor), but with a lot more spice - some curried-fruit flavors and I want to say mesquite bean candy, although I only have faint recollections of what that tastes like. It is a very complex and dynamic liqueur.
The liqueur is apparently very popular in Los Cabos where it is used in place of the Triple Sec. I have tried that version, and find it to be a little too far of a departure from a classic margarita. I really do need that "silly French liqueur" Cointreau in my margaritas. (I'll go on and on about Cointreau in another post later) I've also tried Rosengarten's "few drops" version and really find that the Damiana flavors get lost.
The optimal use of Damiana in a Damiana margarita, per my experimentation so far, is to simply add about 1/4 oz. to a standard margarita. My friend Jeremy uses a slightly different recipe, making use of Trader Joe's margarita mix instead of the lime juice, which I'll have to try in the future as well.
1.5 oz. good blanco Tequila
1.5 oz. Cointreau
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice (add simple syrup to taste, if desired. I ususally omit)
1/4 oz. Damiana
Shake ingredients with cracked ice and pour unstrained into an old-fashioned glass. Salted rim optional.