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Antonia Garau Arbos
"Only the wind should caress them!" -
Famous Hierbas Liqueur from Mallorca

How the herbs for Mallorca’s famous Hierbas liqueur are cultivated.

Antonia Garau Arbos is the Lady of the Herbs. Day by day, with Argus eyes, she watches over the beds in which the aromatic plants thrive. Twice a year, in September and at the end of May, they are harvested and processed into Mallorca’s famous herbal liqueur, Hierbas. “Then they have reached just the right stage,” says Garau Arbos, President of the Association of Mallorcan liqueur producers and co-owner of the firm Túnel in Marratxí, a company whose origins date back to the year 1898 in Bunyola.

Tunel bottle
The production of liqueurs on the Island has a long tradition. Already in the Middle Ages the monks on the Balearic Islands had developed, behind thick cloister walls, health-giving essences from wild herbs and alcohol – for purely medicinal purposes, let it be said. And by the end of the 19th century the Hierbas liqueurs were exported to other countries, including to South America.

Today, eight producers divide the market on the Island between them. They have their head office in Santa Maria and Santa Ponça, at Llucmajor and Palma, in Artà and Marratxí. According to the regional Ministry of Agriculture a total of 1.2 million litres of Hierbas was produced during the last year.
The firm of Doña Antonia is, in this respect “the only one that maintains its own plantations”. One of the fields is sited on the company-owned finca at Binissalem: with Camomile full of yellow blossoms, Rosemary, Vervain, the mint type ‘Hierbabuena’, Lemon Balm, Oregano, Thyme and Marjoram. Orange and lemon trees are to be found there too, the leaves of which are likewise used in production. On a second plantation Fennel is cultivated. This plant was isolated as it is extremely dominant and displaces other plants. Naturally enough, anise, juniper and myrtle also feature.  

flower Following the harvest the herbs are dried for a period of two weeks in the open air. The wind alone should “gently caress” the plants. And that takes place exclusively in the shade: the sun would rob too much colour and aroma from the plants. The application of fertiliser and pesticides is taboo. “Water and a lot of care, that is all that they get”, says the head of the firm.

  At least seven different extracts are used for the Túnel liqueur. Depending on the harvest, in many years there could be up to 30 herbs. In the process the whole must result in a rounded taste. No single herb should dominate. “That is the secret”, confided Antonia Garau Arbos. To ensure that happens, the recipe is constantly checked and refined in the firm’s own laboratory. Two biologists and two chemists are solely employed in this task. One final point: no harvest is quite like another. 

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