Mocktails! Tonics for Liver Health and More

There’s a movement called sober curious which is for people who maybe aren’t clinically alcoholics, but would like to break out of just the default of a glass or two of wine after work. Before that, there was dry January. And of course, there are 12 step programs and those who have maybe always abstained for religious reasons. At the convergence of these trends is the newly trendy mocktail, with all the gastronomy and foodieness and none of the liver troubles.

I had seen an ad on Facebook for some crazy expensive designer mocktails and thought hell, I could do that for way less! So here goes a report-out from my first efforts. I’ll note that while I don’t really have the patience for cooking and baking, I do love a damn flairy presentation. This had my name written all over it!

More context: I come from a long line of alcoholics. I don’t think I’m there by a long stretch, but because of that history, I like to take structured alcohol breaks to make sure I don’t ever get to dependence. I was feeling like I was hitting a rut of just having wine after work on autopilot lately, so thought it was a fine time to chill for a bit and stick with the always delightful La Croix and the like.

But I was getting bored and I realized what I missed wasn’t the alcohol at all, but the ritual. I drink carbonated water in some form all day throughout the workday. Cracking my twelfth water at the end of a slog didn’t exactly signal to my brain that it was time to shift gears. So I thought, let’s to do this mocktail thing! What follows is my annotated first attempt.

Base: I thought I’d start with a grapefruit Spindrift on a few fat ice cubes. It’s got a little juice and more interesting color. Side note – grapefruit juice in the form of the poloma (just add tequila) is the summer obsession for me and my quarantine pod! So this was familiar territory. Turns out grapefruit juice is also way healthier than most other juices. In fact, studies show that it can help with healthy weight and battle insulin resistance!

Muddling Through: A mortar and pestle grind is half the fun, right? My boss had given us some farm-fresh cukes and we have a full herb garden. I plucked some rosemary and thyme and went to town crushing them together into a cucumber slice.

Herbage: Here’s where I went a tad nuts. I have an absurd collection of various tinctures and busted out a considerable number for this endeavor. Disclosure – I just casually threw in a dropper of each, I have no claim as to healthy dose or interactions but I seem to have lived. I selected two adaptogens (which help the body cope with stress): rhodiola and schisandra. I couldn’t find my favorite, ashwagandha, but I think that would have been swell. I also threw in a few herbs known to help improve liver (milk thistle and dandelion) and digestive function (slippery elm, marshmallow– not the fluffy white stuff). It also seemed essential to throw in my daily 2 droppers of Jade Windscreen, a Chinese herb blend to help ward off infectious diseases (hello, COVID, I am looking at you).

Literally the kitchen sink in terms of add-ins

Optional but technically not very mocktailish- a few shakes of Angostura bitters imparted some great complexity, but if you are avoiding all alcohol this does have trace amounts so forgo if for religious or other reasons. It probably has as much as a kombucha for those who are cool with a hint.

Finishing touches: A few more sprigs of rosemary and thyme, along with another cuke slice. Stage it in a fun glass under bright lights. Post to IG, sip and grin!

Review: I thought my first attempt had all the complexity of a $15 drink at one of my pre-COVID bourgie haunts (miss you all, Rasika, Black Salt, Oyamel). In terms of ritual, it was way more involved (and entertaining) than unscrewing a bottle of wine (yes, I am too lazy and trashy for corks). I also begged my fairly unwilling wife to try a sip. She called it “sort of refreshing,” which I’ll take as high praise!

I think I could definitely get used to these, and they’re way cheaper than either real alcohol or that crazy expensive designer stuff that’s popping up. Hell, maybe I’ll start my own line! Venture capitalists, you know where to find me ;P.

Extra Credit: Ideas for future mocktails:

Sleep Well! I always like to draw a link back to sleep health, and there are many great mix-ins you could add to help with insomnia. I omitted them from this experiment because it was too early in the day, but lavender would be a great note to help with calming before bed. You could also take your favorite night time herbal tea and serve it over ice with some other mix ins to wind down (great sleep-promoting teas include chamomile, tulsi, passion flower). In terms of tinctures, valerian root or magnolia bark have both been shown to help with good sleep. For people who are used to a few drinks per night, it’s important to note that while alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it actually causes more frequent awakenings later in the night. It can also suppress REM sleep if used chronically. Indeed, recovering alcoholics show REM rebound (an abundance of REM) in the immediate weeks and months after abstention.

Tonify your liver qi: In Chinese medicine, the liver is a key organ, with much broader responsibilities than in the Western conception. It is called “the army general” and oversees the entire body’s flow of qi and blood, and is also thought to house the soul (hun). Which herbs are good for liver health and a nice option for mocktails? In addition to dandelion root and milk thistle noted in my recipe, turmeric and ginger can improve liver function. On the more obscure side, my acupuncturist consultant recommended Chai hu (bupleurum) as a first line option. This would of course be harder to come by, but can be found online or in cities with sizable Chinese populations.

Next time you come home wiped (or unplug your teleworking laptop), consider a liver-friendly tonic and sleep aid to wind down!

Please share your favorite mocktail recipes and mix-ins in the comments!

Bottoms up, B’s!


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