Herbal Wine in Ancient Egypt

As one would expect near the end of the semester. I was starting to run out of topics to write about for my student blog posts. So, in order to find a topic, I went to JSTOR and typed “Ancient Egypt” in the search. And I found an article – Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wine.

Ancient Egyptians were able to make herbal wine thanks to the climate and the fruit trees that grew in the area. The fruits from the trees offered sugar and ethanol that allowed for the production of alcohol with an alcohol content up to 3.8%. Patrick McGovern, the author of the paper, discusses it more in detail, explaining the chemical process, as well as the likelihood that human populations eventually succeeded in making the wine through trial and error. This specific wine was mostly used to treat diseases and ailments.

One of the first questions that one would probably ask is, “How can we tell what the chemical make-up of Ancient Egyptian herbal wine was?” While Ancient Egyptians may have left insight about medicinal practices and herbal wine in historical documents, the focus of this paper is the chemical composition and process. Thus, McGovern gathered his information by studying the organic materials found in the tombs.

The majority of the paper focuses on the chemical composition of the wine, which included herbal genera, honey, milk, and tartrate acid/tartrate (which is still used in modern wines). One interesting aspect is that a lot of these organic materials are still used in herbal medicines in Egypt today. Another interesting piece of information was that not all of these organic materials were originally from Egypt. Some materials, such as A. Seibeni and T. annuum, are native to Iran and Morocco, demonstrating the importance of trade to this practice of developing herbal medicines.

McGovern does mention historical documents depicting the process of creating herbal additives and wine, including inscriptions on the walls of temples, such as the Temples of Philae and Edfu. Overall, the collection of materials, development and use of the product, and the documentation, demonstrates the widespread political, economic and cultural influence simple things – like herbal wine – in Egypt possessed.

Ancient Egyptian Herbal Wines
Patrick E. McGovern, Armen Mirzoian, Gretchen R. Hall and Ofer Bar-Yosef
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , Vol. 106, No. 18 (May 5, 2009), pp. 7361-7366