High Desert Botanicals

Botanical kits for creative craft cocktails.

Cinchonism: too much of a good thing

  • Cinchonism: too much of a good thing

The primary active compound in Cinchona bark is quinine, an alkaloid that treats and prevents malaria infections.  Cinchona also contains several other related compounds: quinidine, cinchonine, cinchonidine, dihydroquinidine, and dihydroquinine, which are used to treat cardiac arrhythmia and as precursors in making other drugs. While cinchona extract and purified quinine are safe for adults in low doses, consuming too much too quickly can result in an overdose called cinchonism.  The first sign of a quinine overdose is tinnitus (ringing in the ears), followed by headache, nausea, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms after consuming tonic water or other beverages containing Cinchona, seek medical care immediately.

The cinchona bark we use for our tonic kits comes from the species Cinchona officinalis and contains 2-3% quinine and related alkaloids by weight. Other species of Cinchona such as C. ledgeriana and C. succirubra can contain up to 7% quinine. The rate of extraction of quinine from the bark depends on several factors including particle size of the ground bark and pH of the solvent (water in our recipe, but ethanol can also be used). More finely ground bark has more surface area exposed to the solvent, allowing the compound to be dissolved more readily. We choose to grind our bark more coarsely than some other sellers because it's easier to filter out larger particles from the tonic syrup. Adding acid to the water also helps to dissolve more of the highly alkaline quinine.

The FDA limits the amount of quinine in tonic water to 83 mg per liter, a much lower dose than used in the treatment of malaria. Assuming perfect extraction, an above-average quinine concentration of 4% and dilution of 1 part tonic syrup to 5 parts sparkling water, our recipe for tonic water yields a quinine concentration of 82.6 mg per liter, though the actual concentration is probably lower. If you would like to increase the bitterness of your tonic syrup, we recommend using the gentian root and quassia wood included in the kit, as these bitter herbs do not contain quinine.

So, much like the alcohol in a gin and tonic, "all things in moderation" is an excellent guideline. We strongly discourage consumption of the raw cinchona bark or drinking a large amount of undiluted tonic syrup.

One interesting side note: quinine sulfate absorbs ultraviolet light (primarily 250 and 350 nm wavelengths) and emits the energy as blue light (450 nm). This makes tonic drinks popular at nightclubs that use blacklights.


Write Comment

Related Articles & Recipes

Tonic Syrup Recipe

Related Products

DIY Tonic Making Kit

DIY Tonic Making Kit

Impress your friends the next time you make a round of G&Ts by pulling out your bottle of homemade Quinine Tonic Syrup. For less than the cost of one pint of "Artisanal" tonic syrup you can make 3 quarts (3 liters) of your very own blend using fr


Homemade Gin & Tonic Kit

Homemade Gin & Tonic Kit

Try your hand at making the cocktail that was invented to stave off malaria, scurvy, and long, hot afternoons.Our Gin and Tonic kit includes all of the spices and herbs you'll need to create three bottles of compound gin and 3 quarts (3 liters) of to


Related Categories

Mixers & Sodas

Mixers & Sodas

Tired of tonic from a can? Want to make real old-fashioned sarsaparilla? This is the place for you.  No more artificial colors or high-fructose corn syrup in your drinks.

Search Blog