Sahlep (Orchid Root Hot Toddy)

The term sahlep refers to both the powder made from grinding dried tubers of the eastern European mountain orchid and the drink made with the powder. It is of Turkish and Jewish origins and flourished in Egyptian cuisine, showing its ancient connection to Orchis mascula, sold as a white powder in specialty stores. In Arabic, sahlep means “fox testicles” and correlates to the Greek work for orchid, which also carries an etymological association with testicles because of its shape. Though this now carries an aphrodisiacal or erotic connotation, its original, Stone Age purpose was to indicate that all sentient beings, humans and animals, belong to one family.

Sahlep is a traditional Turkish hot toddy drink known to heal sore throats and congestion. It can be thickened with steaming milk and seasoned with a bit of cinnamon and ginger; many have been known to place a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream in the drink. In Sarajevo, the juice from the juniper berry is part of local tradition, for which the local coffeehouses are well-known. The century of war that has been perpetuated in part to retain control over the resources and ingredients necessary to perpetuate this tradition, however, goes largely unrecognized.

16 ounces of artesian well water and/or spring water (water not filtered by a water treatment plant)
2 tablespoons sahlep
6 ounces raw sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ pound rose petals
32 ounces water
2 lemons studded with cloves

Put sahlep powder into a small portion of water to moisten. Bring water and sugar to boil. Add in sahlep powder and you have the aphrodisiac drink.

To make rose juice, as is traditional in Bosnia, make sure the rose petals are cleaned and put in a large jar with cold water and the lemon-studded cloves. Put the jar on a shelf that gets the most sun exposure; as with making sun tea; let the rose petals meld into the water and lemon mixture until the petals are blanched white. Strain the water into a bowl and add in sugar, stirring with wooden spoons only. Pour into containers; it can be stored for nine days.