A Holiday Toast to Your Digestive Fire

by Travis Metzger |

A Holiday Toast to Your Digestive Fire

Limoncello is the Italian word referring to an intensely lemon flavored liqueur most famously associated with southern Italy that is made from lemon zest (strictly non-treated), alcohol, lemon juice, water and sugar.  It is a beverage usually consumed after meals but is perfect for any special occasion as an aperitif or digestive.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a long history of the use of wine and liquor as a medicinal in decoctions or tinctures.  

Ginseng is a very popular ingredient used in medicinal wines or liqueurs and can be one of the more expensive and prized medicinal herbs available.  Ginger and goji berries are also often used as medicinal infusions. More easily accessible and much more familiar is licorice infused spirit such as the Italian Sambuca or the Greek Ouzo.  It is indeed currently quite fashionable at many popular bars to see the mixologists combining art and science by adding medicinal value to the world of cocktails.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, alcohol will leave your body damp and hot.  Damp, in the inability to metabolize food and fluids well so your body gets bogged down and retains water.  Hot, in that it’s post digestive temperature will leave you warm or hot which can make you restless or irritable.  

Too much alcohol will overwhelm your spleen, kidney and liver and hurt your overall digestion, but in moderation a small amount of alcohol can warm your middle burner and aid your digestion.  Spirits such as vodka are very good at moving and dispersing stagnation.

What About the Sugar?

Sugar, we must remember, passes quickly into the bloodstream, shocking and weakening the digestive system, to result in a blood sugar imbalance that causes a craving for more sugar. This is clearly a recipe to use sparingly and save as a treat for certain occasions.  

Every year my parents receive a large box of freshly picked organic meyer lemons from a friend's backyard trees in California so it has become tradition to make limoncello during the holidays. Use only organic lemons as commercial fruits are dyed, waxed and have fungicide and pesticide residues.   No other liqueur made from a simple infusion can gratify the taste buds quite like limoncello. Although a highly alcoholic liqueur, the perfume and flavor of this variety of lemons allows this drink to be lemony, sweet and very pleasing to the palate.

An Overview on the Ingredients from a Chinese Medicine Perspective

Sugar: Sweet and neutral, white sugar can supplement and harmonize the center, boost Qi and moisten the lungs.   

Lemon – Sour, astringent and slighty cool.  Transforms and resolves dampness and phlegm, resolves stagnation, engenders fluids in the body and supplements the spleen.  Aids digestion by stimulating the flow of saliva. Relieves heat and helps with thirst, sore throat, fevers and cough. Can act as a laxative and diuretic with important antiseptic and antimicrobial properties.  Lemons can benefit the liver by encouraging the formation of bile,

Alcohol – Bitter, sweet, acrid, warm and can be toxic; frees the flow of the blood vessels and disperses cold Qi, arouses the spleen and warms the stomach.


limoncello recipe vodka

Limoncello for Your Digestive Fire

Serving size

About 60, 1 ½ ounce servings

Prep Time / Cook Time / Inactive

1 hour / - / 1 week


  • 20 Lemons, zest and juice
  • 1.75 L Vodka
  • 3 Cups Sugar
  • Water as needed


Using a vegetable peeler, remove the peel from the lemons in long strips.  Using a small sharp pairing knife, trim away the white pith from the lemon peels as pith is bitter; discard the pith.  A micro plane will work here as well. Place the lemon zest in a glass pitcher and pour the vodka over the zest and cover with plastic film.  Steep the zest in the vodka for one week at room temperature. Juice the lemons and add the sugar and water as needed to make four cups simple syrup.  Strain the zest from the vodka, add the simple syrup, bottle and store in freezer.

The recipes on The Way are intended as an East meets West look at food and its relationship to health and nutrition. Food is powerful, and every bite can either greatly benefit your system or effectively work against it. In Chinese Medicine, each grain, vegetable, meat, fruit, and spice has unique properties that can be harnessed to help us achieve and maintain balance in our bodies. Our recipes seek to incorporate some of the age-old principles of Chinese medicine into the culinary practices more familiar to the West.

Dining with Culinary Artist Travis Metzger is an unforgettable experience. You can taste the passion, creativity and culinary expertise in each of Travis’s one-of-kind recipes. Most would agree that Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs in their original form taste less than delectable, but Travis has proven that TCM for today can taste great with DAO Labs. Travis develops unique flavors for each DAO formula to complement the proprietary blend of herbs and their health benefits. After extensive training at the New England Culinary Institute, Travis ran some of the finest restaurants across the country before starting his own in Minneapolis. To survive the stresses and physical challenges of the kitchen heat, Travis focused on combining natural ingredients for healthy AND delicious eating and juicing.

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