Medronho, Much More Than A Drink

Posted by Marianne Hoesen on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 Under: food and drink

These are some Medronho berries. They grow on the Strawberry Tree - Arbutus Unedo - and are mainly used to create the famous Algarvean Aguardente de Mendronho.

The berries have an acquired taste. Maybe that is why it has "Unedo" in its Latin name, which means: eat only 1. The fruit and the pretty little flowers can be see all at the same time, between October and December. It takes a complete year for the berry to develop from flower to ripe fruit. First they are green, then orange/yellow and finally they turn red. The tree - or better the bush - that they grow on is evergreen and can grow up to 10 meters high. It is a member of the Ericaceae family, which makes it a cousin of the heather and bilberry.


Medronho berries have a high pectin content, which makes them very good for preparing jams and preserves. The fruit, as well as the leaves, are being used in folk medicine for ages to treat problems like diarrhoea, arteriosclerose, kidney and bladder infections or liver diseases. The berries have many phytochemicals, including polyphenols, which are thought to reduce cancer risk, coronary heart disease en degenerative diseases. They are also rich in antioxidants such as vitamines C and E and carotenoids.

For treatment of kidney/bladder problems you can try this: 
Boil a liter of water, add 20 grams of leaves and leave them there for 10 minutes. Drink a cup 3 times a day for 3 weeks. You can sweeten the tea with a little honey.

Be careful though and do not eat too many fresh berries (in case you like the taste), because they also contain a lot of tanines wich can give you some problems.

The Portuguese became very skilled in distilling the fruit in late winter, after weeks of fermentation, and create the famous Aguardente de Medronho.  


Only the yellow and red berries are perfect for making the local spirit, aguardente de Medronho.  In the old days whole families walked through the serra to pick berries. It was a social happening.  Nowadays, this tradition is slowly dying, because the younger generations do not have the time for this and many of them are leaving the countryside to live and work in the cities. 


It takes between 7 and 10 kilograms of fruit (depending on the quality) to make 1 liter of medronho.  The picked fruit is stored in barrels, sealed with a waterlock and has to ferment for approximately 2-3 months.  The actual distillation takes place in a straight pipe alembic made from copper, heated by a slow fire. This method of distilling was passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years. 

When European law wanted to stop this old tradition , a lot of farmers went "underground" and the good stuff is now unfortunately only available "under the table". Legally you are allowed to make 30 liters of medronho for your own use only.

To recognise a good quality medronho you put a little amount of it on your hands, rub them together and smell. If you can smell the fruit after the alcohol evaporates, you can be sure to enjoy a good mendronho.   

And then you propose a toast:  A nossa saude !  (On our good health!)

In : food and drink 

Tags: medronho  aguardente  strawberry tree  arbutus unedo 

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About Me

Marianne Hoesen Born in the deep south of The Netherlands, I moved to the central Algarve in 2007, together with my partner and 2 dogs. In the meantime we added some goats and chickens and are living a peaceful life in the rolling hills of the rural south of Portugal. I invite you to read a bit in my blog and to leave a comment afterwards. Also check out the holiday accommodations mentioned elsewhere in this website.


Algarve Portugal
café Portugal, bica
Esteva, rock rose, Algarve
sun, beach, Algarve
real cork real wine
beach Algarve
folklore dance Algarve
chicken piri piri

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