My hometown in Colorado just received plentiful blankets of snow…thinking of snowy home brings me back to the holidays when I made several kinds of herbal wine. I first took a class in herbal wine making in Boston, MA. During the class, we explored a variety of herbal wines that left delicious flavors lingering on my taste buds, and leaving me warm before I headed back home through the snow. I felt introduced to an exciting new avenue of thinking about the craft of botanical medicine through making herbal wine infusions.
Not only can such infusions be incredibly delicious, but certain blends can provide medicinal benefits. This idea is far from new. Throughout history, wines have been found with traces of different botanicals in them. Additionally, ‘bitters’ or ‘aperitifs’ have been taken before or after meals to promote healthy digestion, particularly with meats. Herbal bitters are blends of bitter-tasting roots, leaves, and sometimes berries. Bitters work by specifically by stimulating the stomach to increase enzyme activity (proteins that help to speed that help with the digestion process). What are some plants classified and used as bitters? Dandelion leaf and roots, Burdock root, Angelica root (do not use when pregnant), Yellow Dock root, Gentian root, and Wood Betony.
Making Herbal Wines….
Herbal wines can be made using any kind of wine, and complemented with a range of tastes extracted from the plant material over the course of just a few days to several weeks and beyond. When mixing the herbs together, fill up a quart mason jar with about 3 fingers (roughly 1.5-2 inches) of herbs. Pour your wine over the herbs, screw on the lid, and shake around. Allow the wine to sit for at least 3 days to draw out the various flavors. I usually set my jars sideways to maximize the surface area contact between the wine and herbs. Some herbs require longer time periods to get the most out of the flavors, however this is where the maker can get creative. Tastes exquisitely weave together and become more complex over time, so try out the lengths of time that you leave in your herbs, along with the ratios, blends, and of course which wines you choose.
Once you decide that your wine is ready, over a clean Pyrex or other mason jar, filter the herbs using a sieve, cheesecloth, and coffee filter for fine filtration. Squeeze out the herbs to get as much wine out as possible. Lastly, pour your completed wine into either the original wine bottle or another bottle. Herbal wines should last about 12 months stored in a cool area. In my class I learned that the wine taste will remain the same regardless of oxidation due to the changes made when combined with the herbs, however I have not verified this. Make sure to label your wines. Additionally, if there are any herbs that may effect any drug medications, make sure to note this also on the bottle. Herbal wines can be consumed as regular wine, however if any of the herbs are particularly strong, energizing, have sedative effects etc., usually a 1/4 glass is taken depending on if the wine is intended to be used medicinally. Try out the following blends below, each of which I allowed to sit for 4 days.
Tantalizing Herbal Wine Recipe Suggestions….
Whites: sauvignon blanc + 1 part elderflower, 1 part lemon balm, 1/4 part lavender
Sweet: reisling + 1 part elderberries, 1 part rose petals, 1 part rhodiola roots, 1/2 part linden leaves
Reds: malbec + 1 part schizandra berries, 1/2 part cinnamon sticks, 1/2 part fresh ginger, 1/5 part peppermint
**Table wines are easy to use, cheaper, and less complex, so you have lots of room to practice and play! I hope you enjoy making some herbal wines!