Make your own Herbal Wines

July 18, 2011

herb Infused wine
Herbal wines
date back thousands of years. Egyptian wine jars have been found with residues of herbs and resins. It makes sense, as we now know that alcohol breaks down the medicinal constituents of plants, making it more bio-available to the body. That’s why we make alcohol extracts as herbal tinctures to deliver botanical chemicals to our body. The famous 12th century German mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, recommended herbal wines such as lungwort wine for emphysema, honey-parsley wine for heart pain, and unsweetened lavender wine for congested liver.

Bitters infused in alcohol have been used in Europe for several hundred years. They usually contain bitter herbs that help with digestion by stimulating bile juices. Bitters have also been traditioanlly added to beer for the same reason.  Angostura Bitters are a famous member of this category and are well-used in hundres of cocktails for a splash of complexity, and to this day only 5 people in the world know the well-kept secret of the herbs used in this special recipe. Though this mexture was hoped to help soldiers in WWI suffering from severe fevers and digestive disorders, it now serves to enliven many of our most special happy hour drinks today. Bitters are usually made with alcohols other than wines, but it might be fun to experiment with bitter herbs when making a more medicinal wine.

There are lots of super tastey concoctions that can be made in your own kitchen. I often make herbal simple syrups to add to gin or vodka drinks for something herbaceous, but it’s really fun to go directly to the source and create an alcoholic beverage that is lively and compex all on its own! This is why going the herbal wine route is worthwhile. Most people can afford a decent white or red wine to start with.

Making Herbal Wines

1. Place Herbs in a bottle (1 oz herbs to 1 pint wine)
2. Pour wine over herbs to fill the bottle (generally a ‘sweeter’ wine w/ about 12% alcohol)
3. Cap tightly and shake well
4. Store in a cool, dark place
5. Shake well every day for 2 weeks
6. Strain herbs.
7. Add sugar or honey to taste (optional), particularly for liqueurs
8. Some liqueurs need maturation time, in which case you might wait a month or more.
NOTE: herbal wines should last about a year. Herbal liqueurs may last longer.

rose infused vodka Rose Petal Wine
(Medicinal Uses: for headaches, heart disease, stomach pain & fever)
600 g rose petals (Rugosa preferred), dried and unsprayed
10 liters combination grape juice and young wine OR all young wine

1. Tie rose petals in a small bag & place in a container with the liquids
2. Infuse in a dark place (covered) for 3 months
3. Filter, pour into a sterilized bottle or jar and store again.

Ref: adapted from an article in The Herb Quarterly by Barbara MacPherson.


Making Infused Honey with Household Spices & Herbs

March 26, 2010

cinnamon infused in honey I wrote this DIY post for a local group of handmade artisans here in Philadelphia, for the Handmade Philly blog. But what could be a better project for my own readers than herb-infused honey, using readily available sprices from your kitchen cabinet and herbs fresh from the garden? Pop on over the Handmade Philly and check out the post.


Keep yourself warmed with Herb & Tea infused Milk

March 11, 2010

Warm milk While the cool weather lingers, here in the early months of Spring, out comes the milk pot. I adore my Swiss-made red-enameled milk pot. To me, it means steaming hot frothy milky beverages that when poured, will not result in a milky mess all over the stove top or counter. To my daughter Maeve, Mr. Milk Pot means “vanilla milk”, “cinnamon milk”, “honey milk”, or “hot chockie”. To me, it means any number of milky beverages. Let me give you an example. Back in January, I made a fresh batch of organic lavender infused organic honey for ecoknits, a wonderful etsian who makes the most adorable little hats. Anyway, at the end of the process, I was left with a mass of organic lavender buds soaked in the most lovely clover honey you’ve ever tasted. My thought? Mmmm..this would be good in warm milk. I thought, why not throw in some organic fair trade earl grey tea while I’m at it? So I did. I let the milk come up to a near-boil (but not), called “scalded milk”. You can tell when it’s right because you see this hint of frothiness around the edges of the pot and the milk has not yet come to a simmer/boil.

Masala Chai Tea Some tea shops, such as Infusion, an independent coffee shop in Mt. Airy (Philadelphia) has been making tea-infused milk drinks, called cambrics, for years. Other places have more recently introduced the tea latte, an infusion of tea in water, made extra strong and topped with lots of steamed milk (i.e. frothiness at its best). I love steamed milk. (I’m a steamed milk nazi because I worked at a coffee shop in Dublin for three months and was forced to master the skill, but that’s another story. I digress.)  The ones who own the origin of the true tea latte are the ancient Indians, I guess, as milk is considered to be a perfect food in India. “Masala Chai tea“, or what I think of as “yogi tea” is a blend of black tea and energetically warming, aromatic spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger root, and pepper traditionally infused (via heating to a near simmer or simmer) in milk and water for a warming, soothing drink. Other possible additions include saffron, nutmeg, and even rose petals, depending on the region of India. That said, you can experiment with this concept. Lavender and black tea or earl grey (bergamot-flavored) tea are sublime with milk, as is black currant flavored tea. One of my favorite tea blends is my “Sunrise Sunset“, which includes red rooibos ‘tea’ (an herb, really), rose petals, hibsicus, cloves, cinnamon, and a touch of orange peel, an herbal tisane which is superb when prepared with warm milk and honey. I also love herbal root blends prepared with a mixture of water and milk, such as my Ishtar tea (shatavari root, ashwaghanda root, dandelion root, burdock root, and cinnamon bark), or even just a mixture of Shatavari root and cinnamon bark. It is a nourishing, vata-clearing tonic that is so very nourishing to the spirit as well.

I am sure my readers will come up with all kinds of beautifully creative ways to infuse milk and create lovely winter treats for both themselves and their children. I want to hear about them! In the meantime, you can start with my lavender and black tea milk (and keep in mind that you can infuse the milk you use to make chocolate pudding, cream of wheat, oatmeal…you name it!). If you use tea leaves or herbs in your milk, you will need to use a fine mesh strainer to strain out the organic material from the milk as you pour into your mug. In the photos for this post, I just used cinnamon sticks and honey in the milk, so a strainer wasn’t really necessary.

cinnamon added to milk over the stove

honey added to warm milk

warm milk being poured into a mug

RECIPE: Lavender & Black Tea Infused Milk
1 tsp lavender blossoms
1 Tbsp. black tea (darjeeling, english breakfast, earl grey)
1.5 cups whole milk

Put all of the above in a milk pot or small saucepan and starting at medium heat, bring slowly to warmth, removing from heat before boiling/simmering. You will see a softening, frothiness around the edge of the milk, and a gentle steam will be rising from the milk. Add honey if desired!
Want to know more about my thoughts on milk nutritionally? Read on. If not, stick to the recipe above and enjoy!

Myth: Saturated fat clogs arteries (i.e., “whole milk is bad”)
Truth: the fatty acids found in artery clogs are mostly unsaturated (74%) of which 41% are polyunsaturated (Lancet 1994 344:1195)

Sally Fallon is an important figure in the Weston Price Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates the nutritional (dare I say, evidenced-based) philosophy of Weston A. Price, who wrote a fabulous book called Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which chronicalled his research among various cultural groups in the 1930’s whose diets were still ‘untainted’ by modern foods such as jams, jellies, white (refined) flours and sugars. He discovered that the facial (skeletal) structures, dentition, physical health remained superior generation and generation only when individuals consume nutrient-dense whole foods and fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats. Physical degeneration would appear in only one generation once modern foods were introduced to a cultural group. Sally Fallon,  the president of the foundation, wrote a wonderful cookbook called Nourishing Traditions, which outlines much of the nutritional basis of what the Weston Price Foundation advocates for through research, education, and activism. Much of the nutrional ‘message’ is quite opposite to what most dieticians preach, though much of this (peer-reviewed, scientific) research is beginning to gain ground in the public eye. Namely, that saturated fats and cholesterol rich foods are not at all the enemies they are made out to be, and are, in fact, vital to a healthy diet. All of this is to say…sigh…that whole milk is good. (P.S. And FYI …soy milk…not so good.)

tea strainerRaw Milk Warmer Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
(2 cups)
1 1/2 cups raw milk
2 Tbsp carob powder
2-4 Tbsp maple syrup OR 1/4 tsp stevia powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp chocolate extract
1-2 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

Place all ingredients in a glass container and mix well with a wire whisk. Place in a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture becomes warm. Do not overheat!

Raw milk is another story, as is the story of cultured milk products and their benefits to one’s health. What are your thoughts about milk?


Rose Infused Vodka: Now what would you like to try?

June 17, 2009

infused_rose_2I’ve been having fun lately infusing fresh herbs into various liquors, though I tend to lean towards the fresh, neutral taste of vodka, which takes on the aromatic qualities of various herbs just beautifully.

This photo depicts vodka infused with organic rose petals. I think I’ll take this with me to Montreal this week for a little bit of cocktail experimenting. Maybe a bit of egg white, muddled lavender, and a hint of citrus (lemon? orange?).

In light of recent posts about Herbal Cocktails and how to infuse your own liquors, what infusions would you like to try or what results have you found?

Here are some other ideas.

1. Plum & rose petal in white wine or vodka
2. Fresh lemongrass & ginger root in Sake
3. Chamomile & Lemon Balm in Gin, Vodka, or unoaked Brandy
4. Lemon Verbena in Vodka or Gin
5. Lavender (a pinch) in Vodka, Gin, or unoaked Brandy
6. Try lavender w/ Lime or Orange
7. Peach & Lemon Balm in Vodka

Keep in mind that if you include fresh fruit like raspberry, cherries, peach, apricot, or plums, the infused liquor may not keep as long, and you might want to keep the (strained) liquor in the fridge for a longer shelf life. Try adding a splash of flavored liquors such as orange liqueur (Cointreau) or raspberry flavored liqueur (Chambord) for additional flavor and complexity. Now you just have to let me know how your experiments turn out!

P.S. here’s a fun post about various liquors by the Cordoroy Ninja


Guest Blogger for Herb Companion: yours truly

April 21, 2009

plantainI have  really enjoyed reading the herby magazine Herb Companion in recent years and have had fun discovering new recipes, herbal histories, and lots of fun information and resources. It’s great to have the feeling of an herbal community through periodicals, blogs, and web-based information on top of all that book learnin’. Recently, I decided to begin guest blogging for Herb Companion and it’s a lot of fun, as you all know how much I love to share information about herbs, nutrition, and natural body care! Be sure to check out my latest post on wild crafting healing herbs to make your own infused oils and medicinal salves.


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