Vzvar (взвар, from varit’ or zavarivat’ – to brew) is a beverage made with various herbs, dried fruit or berries, spices, and honey. It had been very popular for centuries before the introduction of tea. There is no strict recipe – each region or even each family could have their own version, depending on what they have in stock.
Most commonly, Slavs used dried apples or pears, heather, St. John's wort, oregano, as well as lingonberry, raspberry, and currant leaves. It’s fairly simple to make – the ingredients are mixed, brewed, and drawn for a while, and there you have it, your warming and healthy drink is ready!
Around the seventeenth century, when tea was already a thing, the term vzvar was replaced with sbiten (сбитень, sbit’ – to put together in Old Russian). Also, a whole new profession, sbitenshchik, appeared – those were the vendors who sold sbiten at local markets and sang verses to promote their trade.
Nowadays, you can find sbiten at supermarkets, monastery shops, or Russian-style cafes and restaurants. Keep in mind that the concept of sbiten evolved and sometimes it comes in the form of a syrup, which you can mix with other drinks, or is brewed with alcohol, which makes it similar to mulled wine. The tastes may differ, but either way, you’ll get something sweet, spicy, and heart- and gut-warming – perfect for winter!
Alternatively, you can improvise with ingredients you have on your shelf and make some yourself. Here’s one of the many variations of the recipe: