If you’re looking for a lightly sweet digestif to enjoy after a hearty Swiss meal, you might want to track down a bottle of Iva. Would you like to know more about this alpine liqueur? Here are 10 facts on this subject — an alcoholic beverage with a long history in Switzerland.
1. Made with alpine flowers
To make Iva, you macerate flowers from the plant of the same name in alcohol, typically a brandy distilled from wine. The color of the drink ranges from clear to green to a light brown. Producers will add sugar to balance the bitter flavor of the blossoms. Its alcohol content ranges between 25-40 percent.
2. Also known as “Musk Yarrow”
In Switzerland, the plant (Achillea moschata) for making this liquor is called Iva in the Romansh language — also known as Musk Yarrow in English. It mainly grows at high altitudes, generally between 1,700 and 3,200 meters above sea level.
3. From the Swiss canton of Graubünden
Patrimoine Culinaire Suisse reports that the first documented evidence of an alcoholic beverage made with Iva appears in a publication from the Engadin Valley in 1782.
4. Claims of medicinal properties
People have historically used the Iva plant for medicinal purposes. In particular, it was supposed to help with gastrointestinal issues. In addition to liqueurs, you will find this plant in herbal teas and to flavor grappa.
5. An intangible cultural heritage
The practice of harvesting Iva flowers in the Swiss Alps extends to the Alpine areas of Northern Italy. For the Valchiavenna region of Italy, specifically, it has been included as part of an online inventory of Alpine foods to increase awareness of this intangible cultural heritage.
6. Making it at home
The tradition of producing this liqueur also exists in private homes. If you want to try making your own, Switzerland’s Marmite magazine has published a recipe for you (in German). You’ll have to be patient though. Altogether, it takes about four weeks for the blossoms to steep in alcohol before you add the sugar syrup.
7. Iva from Valposchiavo
In Graubünden’s Valposchiavo, two Iva liqueurs have earned the “Fait sü in Valposchiavo” logo. These food products must be manufactured in this region, but some or all of the ingredients used to make them may come from somewhere else.
8. How to serve
This delicately aromatic liqueur works well at the end of a hearty meal, such as a cheese fondue. You typically serve it chilled or on ice. It pairs well with one of my favorite biscuits from Graubünden, the Totenbeinli. Kindschi, a producer in Schiers, also recommends using this liqueur in marinades and sauces for wild game and beef.
9. Using it in cocktails
You can also use this bittersweet liqueur for cocktails. Mia Iva, an Iva producer in Tschlin, has published a recipe for “Iva Ingwer” (Iva Ginger) on their website. It calls for gin, freshly grated ginger, lime juice and a touch of honey. In her book Drink Like the Swiss, author Andie Pilot proposes an Iva cocktail with orange juice, orange liqueur and sparkling water.
10. Where to buy it
Switzerland has several different producers of this liqueur. For example, you can purchase it online via Drinks.ch, Drogaria Surses or Kindschi. It’s also available from Antica Distilleria dal 1792 in Val Müstair.
- Harvest and Use of Achillea Moscata / Iva Herb in Valchiavenna, Intangible Search: Inventory of Intangible Heritage of the Alpine Region.
- Hofmann, Heini, “Iva – ein Medikament mutiert zum Genussmittel,” suedostschweiz.ch, 2014.
- Imfot, Paul, “Iva,” graubündenVIVA, 2019.
- Dietrich, Heribert, “Iva,” Marmite.
- Schnydrig, Stephanie, “Liqueur d’Iva contre le crétinisme et les flatulences,” Les Alpes (Club Alpin Suisses CAS, July 2020).
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