Making a Tonic Water

I am working on making homemade tonic water for the holidays, which isn’t exactly earth-shattering. Every novice herbalist and foodie out there is talking about homemade cocktails and liqueurs this season.

I have shared simple recipes for quick gift making in the past, that’s not the point of this post. Right now I want to take a minute to talk about the fact that as beverages have been incorporated into cookbooks throughout history, sometimes cooks take shortcuts. They cook the ingredients in a way that might still be tasty but aren’t the best way to extract health promoting constituents. There are a lot of great recipes out there, but not a lot of great formulas.

Using cinchona as a malarial cure is generally attributed first to the 17th century physician Robert Talbor who was making a decoction with cinchona, lemon, and rose. The original tonic water was simply quinine and water, but the citrus and spice were added back to the mix to make the drink more palatable.

Earlier in the spring I shared a picture of my tonic water recipe in a couple of places. It’s something I will mix into some sparkling water for people experiencing high fever as a cooling beverage. It is a nice combination of bitter and cooling organic acids. I mostly suggest it for hectic fevers or clients who have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) that presents with frequent fevers. It is also easier to get in people who don’t like teas.

People weren’t used to making homemade tonic water and asked a lot of questions, so I shared David Lebowitz’s recipe on my Facebook page because I didn’t have time to type this all out. It’s close-ish to mine.

Lebowitz is an amazing foodie but his preparation method doesn’t make the best of the ingredients from a therapeutic standpoint. He also adds a lot of spices that I think detract from creating something that tastes like real tonic water, and some of them are mildly warming which I think muddles the energetics of the drink.

I think people just skipped to the recipe, based on the feedback I got. So before we even start talking about the preparation, I want to point out, like he does, that this is a concentrate. It’s not meant to be drank full-strength. If you want the bubbly type tonic water you get at the store, you mix this with sparkling water.

If I were mixing this for a cocktail party, I might only add a couple of tablespoons to a 12-ounce bottle sparkling water to make a tonic water. If I were mixing it for therapeutic reasons, I would mix it about 50-50, with the caveat that it’s only to be mixed this strong for short-term use because quinine which is the active ingredient in cinchona has some rather nasty side-effects if you over do it.

Homemade Tonic Water


  • 6 cups water
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 orange
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 lime
  • 2 tbsp citric acid
  • 4 tbsp dry cut & sifted chinchona bark
  • 4 tbsp dried lemon grass
  • 10 allspice berries
  • 1 cup of simple syrup or honey


  1. Before you start boil some water and dip the fruit in for a couple of minutes to dissolve any impurities on the surface. ( Do this even if the fruit is organic. There are organic waxes that they use for marketing.)
  2. Place the cinchona bark, lemongrass, and allspice in a saucepan with the water and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the heat down enough to keep it at a low simmer for twenty minutes. (Here we are making a decoction of the tough ingredients, but you don’t want to put your fresh aromatics in the decoction because you will lose them to cooking. )
  4. While this is simmering you can zest your fruit into a bowl that has a tight fitting lid and put the lid on when you are done. If you don’t have a zester like the one in the picture, you can just using a paring knife and peel them thinly.
  5. When your timer goes off, strain the hot liquid into the bowl over the zest.
  6. Add the citric acid and simple syrup and put the lid on the bowl. (Not cooking the zest cuts back a great deal on losing those aromatic terpenes like limonene and flavonoids like hesparadin. )
  7. When the mixture is completely cool, strain it well. You can juice your fruit while it is cooling.
  8. Stir in the juice and bottle it. We wait to add the juice until the solution is cool, because there’s no sense in cooking away all of the vitamin C complex. I sometimes use the grapefruit juice and orange juice for something else and just juice the lemons and the limes. Feel free to experiment