Since it is winter here in the lovely Kingdom of Lochac, warm comforting drinks are much needed. The drink sahlab or salep was used throughout the Greek & Roman world, then picked up by Muslim scholars later. It is made of the powdered root of the orchid Orchis mascula or Early Purple Orchid. It was mentioned by Maimonides to “revive the spirits and sexual desire”. Some recipes have rose water, orange blossom, cinnamon, coconut or pistachios in it, depending on the region where it is made. Before the rise of tea and coffee as daily drinks, the drink known as saloop or Turkish Delight (before describing lokum) was popular in Europe. Due to the popularity of the drink today, the orchid is threatened, leading to bans on export from Turkey. The packets that are available in some shops are mostly corn flour.

Let me know if you have tried Sahlab!
Recommended reading
Sahlib, another wonderful winter drink on Dianabuja’s Blog.
Sachlav: The Hot Chocolate of the Middle East by Devra Ferst. On The Jew and the Carrot.
RECIPE: Sahlab, Creamy Hot Drink From the Middle East by Miriam Kresh.
Practical Materia Medica of the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean According to the Cairo Geniza by Efraim Lev and Zohar Amar. Viz Google Books.
Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks. Via Google Books.


Picture from Wikimedia Commons. The drink sharbat was thought to be a medicine, as well as a drink. They were fruit drinks made with a sugar syrup, seasoned with spices such as roses, sandalwood, aloe wood and hibiscus.The drink originated in Persia, first mentioned in the Persian book Zakhireye Khwarazmshahi, a 12th century 10 volume medical encyclopaedia. It spread over the Middle East, but especially to India and was popular during the Mughal Empire.
Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia by Josef W. Meri. Via Google Books.
The World’s First Soft Drink by Juliette Rossant. Recipes at the bottom of the article. From Saudi Aramco World.
Science and poetry in medieval Persia: the botany of Nizami’s Khamsa by Christine van Ruymbeke. Via Google Books.
Physicians as Professionals in Medieval India edited by Deepak Kumar. Via the Internet Archive. Text file.
An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook by David Friedman. This is an extra section on medicinal drinks.
Food as Medicine in Muslim Civilization by Nil Sari. From

Coffee and Coffee Houses

There is a coffee page, with some of this information already on it. Please forgive any repetition, as all information is needed for a full story…

The very first mention of coffee beans are from Ibn Sina or Avicenna. In his work called the “Al-Qanun fi al-tib”, the bunn, when brewed into bunchum from Yemen “revives the body, cleans the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent smell to all the body”. This same opinion had also been held by Al-Razi, who wrote his works of medicine in the 10th century. However, some of the first coffee plantations were started in Yemen, in the 13th century. It was known to have been used by Sufi mystics in Yemen in the 13th century, specifically the order set up by Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili (known as the Shadhili).

O Coffee, thou dost dispel all care, thou art the object of desire to the scholar

Anon Arabic poem, 1511.

Shihab Al-Din Ibn ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, writing in 1532, reported that Yemeni students were using qahwa to study in the Al-Azhar Medrassa. A scholar named Abd-al-Qadir ibn Muhammed al-Ansari al-Jaziri al-Hanbali wrote a treatise called “Umdat Al-Safwa, Argument in Favor of the Legitimate Use of Coffee” in 1558, highlighting the arguments on morality and religion that plagued coffee and coffee houses.

Coffee was banned in Mecca in 1511 by the Governor, Khayr Bey. Specifically in public and in groups. The ban would be unable to be enforced in the privacy of the home. All coffee shops were closed and stock confiscated. The next year the Caliph of Cairo over-ruled the Governor and he was put to death for embezzlement. With the Mamluk empire falling to the Ottomans in 1517, coffee quickly spread over the rest of the Middle East, with the Ottoman historian İbrahim Peçevi writing-

Until the year 962 [1555], in the High, God-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffee-houses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.

By 1530, Damascus had coffee shops. In 1524, coffee shops were closed down in Mecca, only allowing private consumption of coffee. This was overturned a year later with heavily licensed shops allowed. In 1539, the coffee shops in Cairo were raided and closed down, which lasted all of a week. After much prohibitions and allowances, it was eventually settled that coffee shops pay a high tax and have a mullah sit and preach in the coffee shops. There by distracting people away from political thoughts (which would lead to unrest) and toward religion.

The first European mention of coffee was in the works of German doctor Leonhard Rauwolf who wrote-

A very good drink they call Chaube that is almost as black as ink and very good in illness, especially of the stomach. This they drink in the morning early in the open places before everybody, without any fear or regard, out of clay or China cups, as hot as they can, sipping a little at a time.

For some reason, coffee was called chaube. It was written in 1585.

The French traveler Jean Chardin wrote in the 17th century of his travels to Persia. There is also mention of coffee shops and what he experienced in them-

People engage in conversation, for it is there that news is communicated and where those interested in politics criticize the government in all freedom and without being fearful, since the government does not heed what the people say. Innocent games… resembling checkers, hopscotch, and chess, are played. In addition, mollas, dervishes, and poets take turns telling stories in verse or in prose. The narrations by the mollas and the dervishes are moral lessons, like our sermons, but it is not considered scandalous not to pay attention to them. No one is forced to give up his game or his conversation because of it. A molla will stand up in the middle, or at one end of the qahveh-khaneh, and begin to preach in a loud voice, or a dervish enters all of a sudden, and chastises the assembled on the vanity of the world and its material goods. It often happens that two or three people talk at the same time, one on one side, the other on the opposite, and sometimes one will be a preacher and the other a storyteller.

Venetian traders brought coffee to Europe in 1615, five years after tea. Coffee houses ended up playing the same role of social gathering and political unrest that it started as in the Middle East.

Coffee History / Pre-1600 on the Espresso Coffee Guide.
Wine In Arabia—1 by Paul Lunde. From Saudi Aramco World.
Wine Of Arabia—2 by Jon Mandaville. From Saudi Aramco World.
Yemen’s Well-Traveled Bean by Eric Hansen. From Saudi Aramco World.
Ethiopian Coffee on Selamta, The In-Flight Magazine of
Ethiopian Airlines.
The Coffee Route from Yemen to London 10th-17th Centuries by Dr Rabah Saoud. From
Coffee — The Wine of Islam.
Coffee, Coffeehouses and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry by Elliot Horowitz. Jstor article on Google Docs.
Coffee in Safavid Iran: Commerce and Consumption by Rudi Matthee. JSTOR article.


Rosewater is created when rose petals are distilled to make rose oil. Essentially it is the by-product! It was first mass produced by the Persians and was mentioned in the works of Abū ‘Alī al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sīnā who is known in the West as Avicenna.

The Damask Rose

It was made from the Rosa damascena, or the Damascus or Damask rose. The rose was thought to have been spread to Europe from the Crusaders, and had reached England by Henry VIII’s reign. This website tells you how to make rosewater at home. The rosewater can be used in food (quite extensively in all the cuisines over the Middle East) and as a skin toner, as it is very mild on the skin as well as an astringent.

Fair warning though- a 13th century Al-Andalus cookbook does say that if you use too much rosewater, your hair will go white!

Saudi Aramco-cooking with the Caliphs.
Saudi Aramco-The World’s first soft drink.
Saudi Aramco– the roses of Taif.
Fragrantica– the Taif rose.
Herbalism, Medieval, Magical and Modern by Jadwiga Zajaczkowa/Jenne Heise.
The Toilet and Cosmetic Arts in Ancient and Modern Times by Arnold James Cooley. This is via Google Books, so is only a preview.