DIY Project: No Equipment Needed
Besides being used for remedies and in flavoring food, the third most popular use of herbs throughout history has been for making drinks. Fermented drinks were the most popular because they extracted the best qualities from the herbs and added the bonus of alcohol. Wines were the first drinks made from herbs, providing mealtime refreshment in the absence of clean drinking water. Water from wells was often poisoned in wartime and when there were uprisings in early kingdoms. Wells were also restricted to the rich and powerful, being added to castles and fortresses while most of the peasants slept in makeshift housing with no amenities at all. Amenities like silverware, drinking cups, clean clothing and even bathing were only given to the rich and powerful. Peasants washed in the rivers and ponds. They also drew their water from these sources, unfiltered and full of dirt and disease. The plague was passed through the water by dead animals ending up in well water and area ponds.
So the answer was making drinks from water which was boiled over fire, fermented for long periods and which was made into palatable wines. This way, the water was consumable without horrible repercussions. And so from Biblical times forward to the Medieval period, wines were the table drink for everyone, including children. Even today, in villages in many rural areas of Europe, the entire family drinks wine at all meals. Even today, with our modern societies, there are still third world areas where potable water is not available through a distribution system like our current one. In these areas, drinks like wine, beer and other herbal waters are the drinks of choice.
In this post, I want to give you a few very old traditional recipes for making wine and beer. These recipes, developed during Biblical and Medieval times, do not require special equipment. They only require fresh herbs, a few simple ingredients, some inexpensive tools and patience. Most of them cannot be finished in a day.. if you want a good fermented product, it can take months. So you won’t whip these up on Friday for an evening greet with friends. But they are really fun to make. They give you a glimpse of what life was like in our not so distant past and they also teach you something about the development of taste and pleasure in the human use of alcohol. And speaking of alcohol, these are not light weight drinks. They were developed for the enjoyment of people who worked in fields, fought wars, lived in hard conditions and were much stronger and more fit than we are today. Therefor, drink with care. A little can go a long way.
My first recipe I want to share is a famous one. Traditional Dandelion Wine. You’ve heard about it song and in movies over and over again. It has a romantic history. And perhaps you’ve had a commercial version of it somewhere in the deep south. But this is the original recipe, as passed down from generation to generation, of the poor in the rural south and the villagers of rural communities throughout Europe. Anywhere that Dandelions grow. And you know they grow right there in your front yard. So, bonus! The flowers are free!
10 cups of Dandelion flowers
1 tbsp bruised Ginger Root
Thinly pared peel of 1 Orange
Thinly pared peel of 1 Lemon
4 cups of Brown Sugar
Juice of 1 Lemon
1 tsp Wine Yeast
5 pints of Water
–makes 3 bottles–
Instructions for homemade Wine:
1. Bring Water to a boil and then let cool
2. Remove the stalk and calyx from each Dandelion flower
3. Put the flowers in a large bowl
4. Pour the cooled water over the flowers
5. Cover with a cloth, leave for a day, stirring now and then
6. After a day, pour it into a large pan or pot
7. Add the Ginger, Orange peel and Lemon peel
8. Boil on stove for 30 minutes
9. Strain the liquid and pour into a clean bowl or bucket
10. Stir in the Sugar and Lemon juice
11. Allow to cool
12. Add Wine Yeast and some of the liquid to another bowl and mix
13. Add the creamy Yeast to the entire mix and cover
14. Allow to ferment for 2 days
15. Keep something under the bucket because it may froth over the rim
16. After 2 days, pour into a large jar and insert an airlock; DO NOT CORK
17. Leave until fermentation has obviously stopped– no more gas bubbles appear
18. Cork tightly for about another 2 months
19. Siphon off and re-bottle; allow it to age another 6 months before drinking
My second recipe is an even older recipe for Beer. It has not been made commercially that I know of nor has it even been talked about much in many centuries. But in the Medieval period, when men were always at war and almost everyone was a nomad, this beer was developed and utilized heavily. It is Meadowsweet Beer and it became a common refreshment because Meadowsweet was widely available. It tasted good, it was easy to get and easy to make. Bottles of it was stashed in the gear that soldiers took with them to war, it was collected and kept in households all over the developing world, treated like it was gold. It was used as money and exchanged for goods.
I chose it today because it is different. You may or may not have heard of it. It is easy to make and much quicker than the wines. You can be drinking it within a week. You will enjoy trying it. It is a real lesson in the history of beer making.
3/4 cup Meadowsweet leaves
3/4 cup Betony leaves
3/4 cup Agrimony leaves
2 cups of Sugar
1 1/4 gallons of Water
1 Week Instructions:
1. Simmer the leaves in the Water for 20 minutes
2. Strain and stir in the Sugar
3. Cool to lukewarm and then bottle
4. This beer with ferment over the next week
5. When fermentation stops, serve immediately or bottle for keeping
And my final recipe for you to make is Meglethin. This is an infamous wine drink that was very popular among the warriors and rebels of developing Europe. Rasputin was reputed to have drank it. It was shared among rural people but also enjoyed by the witches and magi of the day. In some modern Wicca groups, this drink is still made and shared among the participants in rituals. It has a fascinating history and I believe you will find it a fascinating and enjoyable refreshment.
This is not a quick make. It is a real wine and will require months of waiting and will improve upon storage… the longer the better. Wealthy families in Medieval Europe were known to have wine cellars packed with bottles of Meglethin in variations. It requires a number of various herbs and wine makers became masters of switching and substituting herbs to create various flavors and colors of Meglethin.
This is a real history lesson for the lovers of wine. It is also a practice in genuine wine making and should help beginning wine makers to better master their craft.
1 bunch of Lemon Thyme
1 branch of Lemon Balm
1 branch of Rosemary
6 crushed Allspice berries
1 Cinnamon stick
1 piece of bruised Ginger Root
1 Mace blade
6 2/3 cups of Honey
5 pints of Wine Yeast (quantities are shown on packages)
1 1/4 gallons of Water
–makes 1 gallon–
Instructions for homemade Wine:
1. Put Water, herbs and spices in a pan and simmer for 1 hour
2. Strain; add the Honey and stir
3. Allow to cool and then add the Wine Yeast
4. Pour into clean jar; save a little for topping off later
5. Leave to ferment in a warm room (use a coaster to catch foam)
6. Add the reserved liquid if a lot is lost to foaming over
7. When the foaming stops, jar and insert an airlock
8. When the bubbles stop, put in bottles, cork and put in a cool place
9. After two weeks, siphon off and re-bottle; cork bottles tightly
10.Store for 6 months
11.Siphon off again and bottle with corks wired shut
12.Store the bottles on their side for at least 2 years