Liquor Can Alleviate Heat Too
According to the records in Miscellaneousmorselsfromyouyang (a Tang collection of notes and stories), the scholars and aristocrats of Tang times would pick lotus leaves, with the stem attached, and hang them above their ink stone case.
Then they’d use a hairpin to prick the base of the stem, and pour liquor into the flower, so that the alcohol would flow through the flower and seep out from the hole in the stem. The scholar would then put the tip of the stem in his mouth and suck on it, so that the liquor and unique, cool sweet taste of the lotus plant would mix together, having a remarkable cooling effect. And after having finished imbibing, he could even chew on the tender and crunchy stem, as a light snack.
But by drinking like this in the summer to relieve the heat, most people may think that the effect is completely due to the lotus stem, as alcohol warms you up when you’re cold, right? Actually, this is a misconception. Speaking scientifically, our bodies contain a kind of chemical called TRPA1, which acts as a pathway for positive ions throughout our nerve cells. Chinese medicine describes this as a “cold passage”, and by stimulating this passage, which can be done by alcohol. It will give one a sensation of coolness.
In Jianshui County, Yunnan, there is a type of cold noodles made from creeping fig fruit, and when it is served half a bowl of sweet Chinese spirit is mixed in, and this is said to be very cooling in the summer. In the north, alcohol is used to alleviate the heat too, such as in Inner Mongolia: upon the birth of a foal, the mother will produce milk, which the Mongols will fill their water pouches with, then after being shaken around as the rider is on horseback for a while, the milk will ferment and become milk wine, which is not only sweet and tasty, but also helps alleviate the summer heat.
The key to using alcohol to relieve symptoms of heat is that it cannot be consumed warm, and wine
made from grain is best, but Chinese spirit is too strong, so the solution of the ancient Chinese was to steep fruit in liquor. The most representative of such heat- relieving fruit wines is waxberry wine, which first became popular in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), and any household could make it, as the process was very simple.
First, fresh waxberry fruit would be steeped in salt water for fifteen minutes, then taken out to dry. Then the fruit would be placed in a glass container, carefully, one layer at a time, each layer would be covered with a layer of rock sugar, then with fine-tasting Chinese spirit of about 45% alcohol by volume, so that the waxberries were partially submerged. Then the container would be covered with a lid and sealed, and placed in a cool and shaded but ventilated area. The Chinese spirit would eventually take on a red hue, and the container would be shaken every few days, until after two weeks to twenty days or so, when the jug would be opened, and the waxberry wine, with its qualities of reliving heat, alleviating humidity and aiding digestion, would be ready.
For the people of ancient times, both the harsh winter and muggy summer were tribulations that had to be dealt with on an annual basis. The Chinese, an agricultural people by nature, put much time and thought into creating all kinds of foods and drinks that could help get them through the summer. Many things in the world are like this, requiring much trial and error, revision and rethinking; to alleviate the symptoms of the bitter summer, an optimistic attitude was necessary, along with plenty of wisdom and help from nature.