In my basement, in a cool, dark corner, sit four bottles filled with a pink bubbly liquid. These bottles contain my latest hobby. Mead. I have become a maker of mead.
For some time now, I have wanted to experiment with herbal beers and wine.
Both beer and wine are traditional forms of offering herbal medicine. The Irish brew nettle beer is an essential element of a spring cleanse. The common soda called root beer was once a concoction of roots, burdock, sarsaparilla and sassafras, meant cure all that ails one, particularly syphilis. In the West Indies, large buckets of ginger beer are made, to help the body deal with intense heat of summer. (Ginger opens up peripheral circulation causing sweating, a natural cooling mechanism in the body.)
Although the herbal beers intrigued me, the fact is I do not really enjoy a beer. So although I enjoy thinking about making herbal beers, I have a hard time imagining drinking them. Because of this, I have not made herbal beers.
I do enjoy a glass of wine. For this reason, I have never made medicinal wines. Wine is just fine the way it is.
The other challenge is that brewing up beer or vinification (the process of making wine) always seems so complicated: tubes and bottles, this chemical process and that active ingredient.
I do that at work when I am making medicine. I want my beverage-making hobby to be something outside of my day to day routine. So when I happened a mead recipe that was so simple I could make it with my eyes close, I got out the honey.
Mead is the ancestor of all fermented drinks. Every culture on the planet enjoys mead.
In India, it is made with rainwater stored for six years. My friend Takota tells me the origin of the word honeymoon comes from the copious amounts of mead Scandinavians drank during their first year of marriage.
The Vikings believed that mead turned a drunkard into a poet or a scholar. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the elves prefer mead to any other beverage.
So how does one make mead?
In a wide mouth jar, pour three litres of spring water and 1,000 mg of unpasteurized honey. It is important that the honey is raw. Raw honey has yeast. The yeast in the honey is responsible for the fermentation process that makes mead. When honey is pasteurized honey or cooked, its yeast is destroyed and nothing will come of the water and honey blend.
Stir until the honey dissolves into the water. Then add the additional flavours. For my first batch of mead, I tossed in wild rose petals. Although the rose petal were removed from the mead three weeks ago, their scent still lingers.
Do not put a lid on the jar — simply keep it in a darker corner in the kitchen. This way the yeast in the air will mingle with the mead. Every time you go into the kitchen, stir the mead. I like to stir it counter-clockwise for a minute and then clockwise for minute.
After a three or four days, the mead becomes bubbly effervescent, particularly after stirring.
Be sure to taste the mead after each stirring. When the hint of vinegar’s sharp bite hits the back of the tongue, it’s time bottle the mead.
But before that happens, one day the mead will push all the rose petals out of the liquid. It is like the water wants the honey all to itself. I just scooped the rose petals out and offered them with vanilla ice cream. Delicious.
Siphon the mead into bottles with narrow necks.
Narrow necks limit the growth of bacteria that are not welcome in the mead-making process. Seal the bottles with firm-fitting caps that are easy to twisted off to release any pressure that may build up as the mead continues to ferment.
One does not want a mead explosion in the basement.
Then in the cold dark month of February, when June’s rose blossoms seem so far away, open a bottle of rose petal mead.
The air is sweetened with the scent of roses and, after a glass or two, rosy cheeks replace the pallor of winter.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbs.com.