A short history of the Fever Tree

Legend has it that the bark of the fever tree was first used by the Spanish in the early 1630s when it was given to the Countess of Chinchon, who had contracted malaria (known colloquially as the 'fever') whilst living in Peru. The Countess recovered and the healing properties of the tree were discovered.

Despite this success its reputation was slow to catch on, it was imported to Europe under the name 'Jesuits Powder' which proved a very poor selling strategy in Protestant England. Even when Charles II in 1679 was cured of the 'fever' its popularity was not assured as its use remained the secret of his physician (Robert Talbor).

However, the healing power of this remarkable tree only became world renowned in the 1820's when officers of the British Army in India, in an attempt to ward off malaria, mixed quinine (the extract from the bark of the fever-tree) with sugar and water, creating the first Indian Tonic Water.

It was made more palatable when they added a little expedient of gin to the mixture. The original gin and tonic was thus born, and soon became the archetypal drink of the British Empire, the origins of which were firmly planted in the fever tree.

But the G&Ts of the Raj were a necessity before becoming a pleasure.

Colonialism produced a huge demand for the bark of the fever tree. In the 1850s the East India Company alone spent £100,000 annually on the bark, but it still brought in nowhere nearly enough to keep the colonists healthy. The answer was to try and cultivate fever trees in the colonies. This initiative inspired intrepid plant hunters across Europe to risk all and travel to South America to harvest these most valuable of seeds. The Englishman, Richard Spruce, brought back seeds from Ecuador, which were subsequently grown in India and Ceylon; but they turned out to be of a species that was relatively poor in quinine.

The Dutch had more luck with seeds provided by Charles Ledger, a British explorer in Peru. Ledger found no interest from the British government, still smarting from its experience with Spruce. However it turned out that Ledger's seeds yielded up to eight times more quinine and subsequently gave Holland a near monopoly of the market.

Here at Fever-Tree we've gone back to the roots of this remarkable tree and have discovered the last remaining plantation of original fever trees descended from the infamous Charles Ledger's Cinchona Ledgeriana variety still in existence in the heart of the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo. Through adversity the plantation is prospering, having made a reputation for producing the finest natural quinine, (still harvested with traditional methods). We're delighted to be supporting this remarkable plantation, by using its highest grade natural quinine in our range of premium tonic waters.