Vodka has a mixed reputation! Some consider it Heaven, some Hell! Both sides can be right.
Russians traditionally drink vodka for any significant occasion, like a wedding, the birth of a child, or a new job.
The appearance of the drink is not dangerous... it looks like simple water (in Russian the word vodka means “little water”) and some people do not think about danger. Vodka, like any alcohol, can be very addictive, and if abused can lead to illness.
There is much speculation about where vodka was first created. We know that wine and homemade fruit wines have been used by humans for thousands of years.
The history of alcohol in Russia goes back a long way. It is widely believed that Prince Vladimir of Kiev chose Christianity over Islam in the year 987 simply to avoid the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. His words, “drinking is the joy of the Rus”, are better remembered in Russia than his other historical achievements.
Real vodka appeared on the scene when Vladimir's countrymen learned the craft of alcohol distillation, probably from Tatar invaders. The Russian historian W. Pokhlebkin maintains that vodka was first produced in a monastery in Moscow in the middle of the 15th century.
Other sources point out that the first to obtain liquid similar to vodka were doctors in Persia (now Iran) in XI century, and the first to distill alcohol in Europe was an Italian monk-alchemic Valentius using the Arab methods. By the same account the history of vodka in Russia began in 1386 when Genoese merchants first brought “aqua vitae” to Moscow. Instead of grapes, Russians used rye to extract ethanol, thus the Russian called vodka “bread wine” at first.
Many monasteries, medicine-men, and natural healers used alcohol to create herbal tinctures that were prescribed to treat many disorders. Alcohol was much stronger than water for infusions and has antibacterial properties. Herbal tinctures became popular as new remedies and alcohol was used during surgery as an anesthetic. Today alcohol is still widely used in medicine.
The essences of many herbs were used to treat different diseases. The method of extracting herbal essences is simple: a bottle containing herbs is filled with alcohol. This mixture stands for 2 weeks and is shaken well every few days. It is then strained and the residue is squeezed out. The herbal extract or essence is ready!
Tinctures were sold by healers or in pharmacies and prescribed to use as drops. But the taste of some of them was so pleasant that people used more than was prescribed. Later, alcohol started to be used in cosmetics.