The other night at Antico Ristorante agli Schioppi (ski-yop-pi) she finished off her meal with a rosolio never having heard of it before she let them recommend this little sweet after dinner drink. Rosolio, also known as Rosoli used to be made from the herb called "sundew" (Drosera rotundifolia), or "Rosa Solis" and, it was made completely from the juice of this herb. The Sundew plant (carnivorous, Lat. Drosera rotundifolia L.) was used to make a bright yellow cordial water that was somewhat strong in alcohol content. This water seems to have originated in Renaissance Turin and was redeemed as a medicine and an aphrodisiac before becoming a popular drink.
The very first arrival of these waters to England in the late 1400’s, was strictly for medicinal use as alcoholic medicinals, which were prescribed in small doses to lift the spirits and strengthen the heart. By 1700, these precursors to modern liqueurs were used for their intoxicating effects as well as supposed medicinal virtues, most of them becoming recreational drinks. Many cordials were made with precious ingredients such as, gold and pearls thought to renew the natural heat, recreate and revive the spirits and free the body from the bad diseases. Some of these forgotten concoctions were Royal Usquebaugh, a spicy liqueur laced with flakes of gold leaf, which actually had an origin from the Aureum potabile or drinkable gold of the alchemists. Many early varieties of “waters” were flavored with spices and herbs thought to settle the stomach after excessive eating, which lead to the name of surfeit waters.
The fact that many cordials were considered aphrodisiacs, contributed to the consumption in social settings instead of in a medical context and this is how we believe Rosa Solis originated. This was distilled over large quantities of the sundew plant while including hot provocative spices like cubebs, grains of paradise and galingale. Supposedly, the sundew plant stirred up lust and when distilled, reflected a glittering yellow color like gold and silver rendering the whole concoction “golden” thus imparting it’s golden warmth within once ingested. During the time of Salmon, rosa solis was used in England at the end of a banquet to wash down other revered food items such as, kissing comfits and candied eryngo roots (sounds truly wicked if you ask me). Today, rosolio is produced in Italy and Spain although no longer a distillate of the sundew plant.
Today, Rosolio is a generic name for any sweet, syrupy, aromatic cordial or liqueur (with low alcohol content) frequently homemade. When rosolio is made from a fruit, the syrupy liquid is extracted then mixed with grain alcohol and in some instances, the addition of specific herbs and or spices occurs. When the drink is made from fresh red rose petals, it is usually called Rosolio di Rose. This version is red or pink in color and has an alcohol content between 22% and 24%.
Take of the hearbe Rosa-Solis, gathered in Iulie one gallon, pick out all the black moats from the leaues, dates halfe a pound, Cinamon, Ginger, Cloues of each one ounce, grains halfe an ounce, fine sugar a pound and a halfe, red rose leaues, greene or dried foure handfuls, steepe all these in a gallon of good Aqua Composita in a glasse close stopped with wax, during twenty dayes, shake it well together once euerie two dayes. Your sugar mutt be powdred, your spices brused onely or grosselie beaten, your dates cut in long slices the stones taken away. If you add two or three graines of Ambergreece, and as much muske in your glasse amongst the rest of the Ingredients , it will have a pleasant smell. Some adde the gum amber with coral and pearle finely poudred , and fine leafe golde. Some vse to boyle Ferdinando bucke in Rosewater, till they haue purchased a faire deepe crimson colour, and when the same is cold, they colour their Rosa solis and Aqua Rubea therewith.
From Sir Hugh Platt, Delightes for Ladies (London: 1600)