Alongside the majestic Es Vedra rock, one of the most recognisable shapes on the Balearic island, is the curving glass bottle that contains this magic elixir.
Hierbas Ibicencas, a deep golden liquid made from the extractions and distillations of over a dozen local herbs and plants, is Ibiza’s equivalent of limoncello. The traditional drink is served in bars, restaurants and seaside shacks all over the island, many of which make it themselves with recipes that are handed down through generations. Ingredients and flavour tones include fennel, aniseed, juniper, rosemary, mint, lavender and oregano, but everyone’s blend will be slightly personal. Its taste is chiefly characterised by the sweet, liquorice-like aniseed spice.
All the herbs used can be found growing wild around the island, so if you find a hint of cinnamon or clove – exotic flavours from the spice trade – in the glass you’re drinking then it’s not as authentic as some. Ibiza’s climate makes for a bounty of the herbs you’d need for a concoction of your own.
Originally made as a medicinal tonic by Balearic monks in the Middle Ages, Hierbas Ibicencas was said to cure coughs and alleviate rheumatism – as well as aid digestion. The most meticulous makers will wait to pick the ingredients by the light of the full moon, and family recipes are well-kept secrets. Mostly the alcohol was used as a carrier for other tonics, but it got recognition for being the remedy. The herbs do indeed soothe the stomach and help the metabolism, which surely justifies that glass or two after a meal. It also gets the gastric juices flowing ahead of a feast, so that condones the glass before.
Superstitions and legends surround the drink. Apart from the moonlit foraging, a bottle of true Hierbas must be made with an odd number of herbs, so that it carries good luck – a belief that goes back as far as pagan times on the island, when the Phoenician goddess Tanit was worshipped. A small bunch of juniper is usually added to the bottle, and the leaves and berries count towards the number of medicines.
Typically served with ice in a tumbler, the liquid gives off an alluring aroma and its high alcohol content makes it a potent tot with which to chase your lunch. Beware its sweet flavour, it makes it dangerously easy to drink.
Marí Mayans’ Hierbas Ibicencas is the most recognisable bottle, and the oldest brand on the island. The distillery was founded in Formentera in the middle of the 19th century by a señor of the same name, Juan Marí Mayans. Juan journeyed to Barcelona in a small fishing boat in search of products to sell on the islands and ended up working in a famous distillery there. He learnt the art of alcohol and brought it back home with him. His recipes were handwritten and passed down through his family for generations. The bottle is designed in the shape of a traditional Balearic farming woman, skirt billowing out around her heels. Production now happens in Ibiza, but the artisanal processes and huge copper stills used today to distil the Marí Mayans’ liqueurs are the same as they were in 1880, giving the family recipe its consistent, authentic taste.
There are many places where you can buy a bottle to take home, like the Hierbas Aniseta from the Aniseta shop in Ibiza Town, where you can browse the vats and kegs used to brew the drink in distilleries. The shop offers samples of the various versions of the liqueur, so you can find the sweetness or alcohol content you prefer.
Here are a few bars that are famous for their home brews. Salud!
Casa Anita, San Carlos
Casa Anita is amongst the most legendary bars on the island – so be sure to stop for a drink if you pass through San Carlos. Allegedly the island’s original hippy bar, this family-run institution will make you feel like you’re time-travelling to the 1960s. They serve homestyle cooking alongside their unique and famous in-house blend of the medicinal liqueur, which the family has been producing for over a century.
Can Xicu, Sant Miquel
This little bar in the north competes with Casa Anita for the oldest recipe for Hierbas on the island. Found in a little town on the way to the port town of Sant Miquel, stop to enjoy rural Ibizan life with a glass of their special blend.
Hostal La Torre, Cap Negret
Order a tumbler of the Mambo Heirbas from the terrace at the Hostal La Torre and toast the sun setting into the sea in the San Antonio bay.
Can Rich, San Antonio
This smooth Hierbas is popular on the island and made by the highly-regarded vineyard Bodega Can Rich. Their blend is made from 17 wild herbs, is sweet and rich in flavour, and is best enjoyed as a dinner digestif.
Sa Capella, San Antonio
Housed in a converted church on a hilltop, the Sa Capella setting honours the Hierbas Ibicencas origins at the hands of the monks. The innovative menu and elegant setting make this a culinary destination and the Hierbas is one of the best on the island.