Just the Tonic: a Natural History of Tonic Water WINNER Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink awards

Winner of the Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink awards 2020 for Debut Drink Book

The first book on the natural and social history of tonic water.

The perfect book to dip into as you swat that bloody mosquito and ponder your first G&T of the day.

Did you know that tonic water was originally consumed as a digestive? And that quinine, the bitter tasting alkaloid that flavours tonic water was first mixed with brandy, rum or wine, rather than gin as the common belief states. Just the Tonic reveals the colourful history and truth behind the myths of this everyday drink.

Authors Kim Walker and Mark Nesbitt take us on a journey from the discovery of quinine, an antimalarial extract from the bark of the cinchona tree that soon became a tool of empires, to the origins of gin and tonic and its rise and fall, and rise again to current popularity. The book also includes cocktail recipes inspired by historical events, and is beautifully illustrated throughout with archival posters, advertisements, photographs and botanical art.


An immaculately researched, beautifully written, gorgeously illustrated history of tonic water in all its forms. We wouldn’t be drinking gin in such vast quantities today if it wasn’t for the tonic we slosh into it and this delightful romp through the beverage’s history tells you everything you need to know about this vital panacea.

There are graphic illustrations (those of weak disposition beware: some are very graphic but then some are very funny too), vintage labels and posters and even some fine tonic-based cocktail recipes. The perfect book to dip into as you swat that bloody mosquito and ponder your first G&T of the day.

Jonathan Ray, author and drinks editor for The Spectator

Discoveries from this latest fact-finding expedition reveal nearly everything I learned about tonic water is a myth. The true story told here traverses the globe; from the age of exploration through the Industrial Revolution and beyond, before dropping readers off in the midst of a mixed drink renaissance. From fever trees to pharmacies and mixology; few tipples team with a tale as beguiling and quixotic as quinine.

Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book and Meehan’s Bartender Manual

 The authors successfully bring together the history of quinine, fizzy water and gin in this entertaining, highly illustrated account. Daily Mail

...a delightfully accessible — and richly-illustrated — tome. Country Life 

Well-presented and laid out, the writing is engaging...an ideal gift. The Field 

Well-researched and lavishly produced...Amusing fact: Oliver Cromwell died of malaria, which could have been prevented if he hadn't refused quinine as a ‘Popish powder'. Tips for Christmas tipples, Spectator

...a fully fledged, jaw-droppingly beautiful book that separates fact from fiction and medicinal from recreational, weaving the botanical, historical, cultural and, naturally, Gin-related nature of this magical drink into some brilliantly linear words. Gin Foundry

It is a tale of discovery, adventure, imperial ambition and biopiracy, with a generous garnish of myth. Stephanie Pain, New Scientist 

Author information

Kim Walker trained as a medical herbalist, and now specialises in the history of plant medicines. She is currently working on a PhD on cinchona at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Royal Holloway, University of London. She is on the committee of the Herbal History Research Network, the British Society for the History of Pharmacy and is a member of the Association of Foragers. She is the coauthor of The Handmade Apothecary (Kyle Books, 2017) and The Herbal Remedy Handbook (Kyle Books, 2019).

Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and his research centres on botany and empire in the nineteenth century, and on the history and current day management of botanical collections. He is the co-author of Curating Biocultural Collections (Kew Publishing, 2014) and The Botanical Treasury (Andre Deutsch, 2016). Mark is a Visiting Professor in the Department of Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Type: Books