In the 1700s, the British East India Company had a problem, a big one. Malaria was reaching epidemic levels in India and other tropical branches of the British empire. Mosquitos were posing a consistent problem that could not be dealt with in the warm tropical climate, and there were limited resources for treating the disease.
In the early 1600s, extracts from the bark of the cinchona tree were used to treat malaria, but it wasn’t until 1820 that the chemical compound of quinine as first isolated from those barks. Scottish physician George Clegorn realized that quinine was effective at treating malaria, and worked with the British East India Company. Quinine was to be drunk in tonic water, however, its bitter nature meant that the taste was very unpleasant. British officers stationed in India and surrounding tropics tried to brighten the taste of the drink. Realizing they were already receiving a daily gin ration, they attempted to mix the tonic, gin, lime and sugar together to make the drink more palatable, and thus—the gin and tonic was born.
It was discovered in a ‘04 study that after 12 hours from consumption of considerable quantities of tonic, the quinine plasma levels in the bloodstream reached therapeutic levels and the suppressed malarian parasites. The WHO (World Health Organization) still sits quinine on their list of essential medicines, however it is no longer the first-line treatment for Malaria. Cinchona trees still remain the most economical and practical source for Quinine extraction. In World War II, however, due to war demand in the South Pacific, research towards the synthesis of quinine was aggressively undertaken. In 1944, American Chemists R.B. Woodward and W.E. Doering successfully developed a method for synthesis.
So, if after a hard day of trail riding or working on your vehicle, you feel the need for a refreshing beverage, reach for the very British gin and tonic.