Making-Honey-into-Wine

Mead, strictly speaking, is made with honey, water, and yeast. Nothing more. It’s a fabulously medicinal and Divinely Delicious medicine in its own right. Truly, I could write a book just on the virtues of Mead, as have many enthusiasts and experts already done. Mead combines the medicinal properties of Honey, which are plentiful, with the gut-friendly medicine of fermentation. A glass a day of mead can help improve digestive health and prevent a wide variety of digestive complaints.

The Honey Part of Mead’s Medicinal Action

Most of the medicinal properties of Honey remain in-tact when you Make your Mead as a Master Herbalist does. That includes the anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties that make Honey a boon for digestive health, best friend to allergy sufferers, and a key ingredient in many natural home remedies for treating flu, cold, and other common conditions.

The antioxidants in Honey have been connected to improving conditions in the cardio-vascular system, neurological system, and to supporting healthy insulin management in diabetics as well as being helpful in cancer treatment. All of those benefits are retained in finished Mead that’s made with medicine in mind.

The Microbial Part of Mead’s Medicinal Action

When you ferment Mead with Herbal Medicine in mind, you’re creating a culture of beneficial bacteria akin to what you create in many of our favorite fermented foods and drinks, minus the sour elements. Naturally and healthfully fermented Meads are teeming with health microbial yeasts and bacterial that support good digestion and a healthy microbiome. Mead can be a tasty ally to the digestive tract, helping support the kind of microbial balance that repairs and protects the whole digestive system.

Herbalist’s Know How To Make Mead Even More Medicinal

Making Mead the Herbalist’s way isn’t just about the process, which we’ll share later in this article. It’s about choosing your ingredients wisely, including those secret ingredients that give layers of flavor and depth to your finished Mead while slipping in a medicine bag of extra benefits.

What are those secret ingredients? They’re herbs, of course!

Mead-makers who add herbs to their fermentations are technically making Methoglyn. Methoglyn is any Mead to which an herb has been added, typically for flavor nowadays. I love adding layers of flavor and medicine to my meads using some of my favorite herbal partners.

Lavender offers added immune system support, helps ease tension overall, and relaxes those who suffer from stress, anxiety, and even depression. Plus, Lavender’s earthy floral scent and flavor adds a depth to Mead reminiscent of Bees and Open Fields and Sweetly Scented Afternoons.

Yarrow offers toning and astringent properties that are particularly nice when one struggles with damp conditions, like those associated with lingering coughs or respiratory illness of a damp nature. Yarrow’s added immune system support is another boon to compliment Yarrow’s strong middle-note, floral scent and favor in Medicinal Meads.

Sage offers support for flu and cold season, some mildly astringent properties, and a boost of phytoestrogens that can be especially helpful for soothing the mind and supporting Women’s Health, especially through the fertility years and menopausal transition.

Rose petals offer more mild astringent and wound-healing properties alongside some immune system support in the form of antimicrobial properties. The sweet, heady floral scent they add to Methaglyn soothes the heart and helps the mind relax…plus the flavor of Rose in Mead is rather luxurious.

Rose hips help boost the nutritive value of Medicinal Mead, adding both nutrition and a touch of sour that’s particularly supportive of the gallbladder, liver, and overall digestive system. Go lightly with Rose Hips, unless you’re looking for a Mead with a vinegar-like character.

Fruits, like Blueberry, Elderberry, Goji Berry, Apple, Raspberry or Blackberry, Cherry, and Strawberry all contribute unique added medicinal properties…and adding them to your Mead makes it a Melomel. Melomels are tasty as heck, with added nutrition and other health benefits that make them a medicinal treat.

How-to Make Medicinal Mead Like a Master Herbalist

If you’re serious about making good Mead that’s also good Medicine, you need to pay particular attention to two areas in particular: Ingredients and Process.

Choose the Right Ingredients

Keep your Mead simple by using as few ingredients as possible. Many Award-winning Mead Makers include a variety of chemicals, like sulfites, to “cleanse” their fermentations so that they can carefully control the strain or strains of yeast that will do the fermenting. That’s part of how they control and guarantee their mead will taste as they desire it to taste. But, those added ingredients strip their meads of many of the medicinal qualities that are inherent in a well-fermented Medicinal Mead.

To make the best Medicinal Mead, stick to the basics…and make sure you’re using only The Best.

Honey for Medicinal Meads

Honey is the foundation for your Mead. Choose the most organic and natural Honey you can find. If you can, build a relationship with a local apiarist or beekeeper who avoids as many chemicals as possible and offer the best support you can. That may mean paying more for your honey, but it’ll also give the bees who made it and the keeper who cares for them incentive to keep doing it right.

The Best Water for Medicinal Meads

Water is key to healthy medicine no matter what you’re brewing or fermenting. Use the best you can. Water from a local natural spring is the ultimate solution. For some of us, city tap water is what’s available. I’ve made terrific Medicinal Meads with tap water, and I’ve found even as simple pitcher-style filter can help improve the quality of my water and thus my meads.  Better is water that’s been filtered by an in-line filtration system. Less good is softened water that’s been run though a water softener system. Distilled is a poor choice, unless it’s the healthiest and purest water you can get. The key is to use the healthiest, most natural water you can-minerals are absolutely okay, but other chemicals are less desirable.

How to Choose Herbs for Medicinal Meads

If you’re adding herbs, choose those wisely, too. You can use fresh or dried herbs just as you would when making a tincture or infused vinegar. Remember that the sweetness of the herbs you use will be eaten by the yeast, quite literally, so the flavor your herbs contribute to the finished Methaglyn or Medicinal Mead will be everything else but not the sweetness.

I recommend keeping herb choices light for your first few batches – just try one or maybe two herbs rather than a whole complex formulation. Once you get to know how each herb tastes in Medicinal Mead, you’ll be able to increase the complexity of your formulations and still make a tasty medicine. Aim for a light medicinal strength for your first gallon or two so that you can get to know the flavor of the herb in the Mead. Good medicine is the medicine that’s taken, so it’s gotta taste good. Save the super-strong medicine-making for tinctures, which are taken drops to droperfulls at a time and don’t need to taste terrific to get them down the hatch. You can get a lot of medicinal strength from a glass or two of well-made Methglyn…and you can actually enjoy it, too!

And, as you would when making any herbal medicine, source your herbs responsibly. Be sure they’re organic, natural, and ethically harvested or gathered. You’ll want the highest quality possible to make the best medicine.

Process: How Can You Make Medicinal Mead Well?

Just like with ingredients, the key to the best Medicinal Meads is in keeping your process simple. The first and foremost point is to Sanitize thoroughly. That’s important no matter what fermentation you’re making, and generally with Mead-making it’s of reasonable importance. But, for Medicinal Meads, good santizing is paramount to success. That’s a direct result of the second point to making really good Medicinal Meads: Keep Cool.

Keep it Cool: Avoid Heat to Make the Best Medicine

Many Mead recipes recommend heating your honey. Medicinal Meadmakers and Herbalists alike avoid heating honey at virtually all costs. Heating Honey changes the chemical structures of the honey, not only taking away a goodly sum of honey’s healthful properties but also introducing some potentially harmful ones. The reason regular meadmakers heat their honey is to control the yeasts that will do the fermentation work, just the same as why they choose to use those extra ingredients. If you’re aiming for good medicine, you want to avoid doing anything to jeopardize the healing properties of the ingredients you’re using, so for honey that means you need to keep it cool.

Sanitizing Basics Help Medicinal Mead Fermentation

I generally use bleach to sanitize my equipment before I begin to make my Medicinal Meads. I make sure to rinse quite thoroughly, and I often let my equipment stand for an hour or so while I gather the rest of my ingredients. I do not heat any part of my must, or unfermented mead, so I make sure that the pot or container I’m using to dissolve the honey into the water is also thoroughly sanitized before I begin. I like to use my hands to do the bulk of the mixing, so I also make sure my hands and forearms up to my elbows are washed quite well with warm, soapy water before I begin. I may stop several times and wash again if I need to pick up or touch anything that wasn’t sanitized. All of this helps ensure that no adverse or harmful bacterial or yeasts come into contact with the must or mead at any point.

How-to Make Medicinal Mead

This is a very basic recipe for a simple Medicinal Mead using Elderflower. It’s a delightful Methaglyn for use to stave off a cold, open sinuses during allergy season, bring down a fever, or enjoy before bed to invoke lucid dreaming. If you harvest your own elderflowers, pick out as many of the stems as possible, but be aware that if a few get into your mead they’re unlikely to cause toxicity or harm so long as you’re taking the resulting mead responsibly. The same goes for when you use your own elderberries.

Ingredients

  • 1 gallon (3.5 l) Water
  • 3 lbs (1.4 kg) Honey
  • 6 cups (250 ml) Elder Flowers, fresh or dried
  • Champagne Yeast (or Montrachet Yeast)

Equipment

  • Sanitizing tools, including bleach and water or similar
  • large pot or bowl for mixing
  • Two 2-gallon (7 l) plastic fermenters with lids and airlocks
  • Measuring spoons and cups
  • Scale
  • Stirring spoons
  • Funnel
  • Racking tube and hose
  • Glass jug with airlock
  • Sanitized strainer or straining bag
  • Auto-Syphon Racking Cane for bottling (optional)
  • Bottles with caps that seal well or wine bottles with corks
  • Capping or corking equipment

Process: Ferment the Must

  1. Sanitize every tool thoroughly. Seriously.
  2. Measure the honey and pour it into the pot or bowl you’ll be using to mix your must.
  3. Add half the water you’ll use to the pot or bowl and mix until the honey dissolves completely.
  4. Pour the water-honey mixture into your fermenter.
  5. Add the rest of your water to the fermenter.
  6. Add the Elderflowers to the fermenter. If you don’t want to strain them out later, put them into a sanitized straining bag and tie it shut tightly before adding them to the fermenter.
  7. Pitch the yeast following the directions on the packet. (Generally, this means you’ll open the packet and sprinkle it in or pop the packet and wait for a it to swell before pouring it in. It can mean making a yeast starter, if you’re so inclined.)
  8. Cover the fermenter and install the air lock, then let those yeasties do their work.

Process: Racking Your Mead

  1. Sanitize every tool you’re going to use. Really, Sanitization is next to Godliness.
  2. Open the fermenter carefully and set the cover aside. If you used a straining bag for your Elderflowers, gently and carefully fish it out and set it aside now. Do not squeeze it.
  3. Connect the racking tube to the hose.
  4. Carefully, slip the racking tube into the fermenter, trying to disturb the lees or sediment at the bottom of the fermenter as little as possible.
  5. Syphon the Must from the first fermenter into the second fermenter by drawing the air out of the racking tube and the must into it until the must fills the tube and a goodly length of the hose and will readily spill into the second fermenter.
  6. Once the majority of the must has transferred to the second fermenter, watch the racking tube carefully. You want to remove it before it begins to draw up any sediment. The sediment will contribute an off-flavor to your finished mead. It’s okay to leave a little mead behind so that you don’t accidentally transfer the sediment into the new fermenter.
  7. Once the mead has fully transferred, cover the new fermenter and install the air lock.
  8. Let the must stand in the new fermenter for a week or two at least. I have often repeated this racking process two or three times before bottling. This helps clear the mead and create a more harmonious flavor profile. You can move straight to bottling without racking a second or third time, too.

Process: Bottle Your Medicinal Mead

  1. Sanitize everything your Mead will touch. Absolutely Everything.
  2. Open the fermenter and set the lid and air lock aside.
  3. Attach the racking tube to the hose.
  4. Slip the racking tube and hose into the fermenter, disturbing the sediment at the bottom of the fermenter as little as possible.
  5. Set-up the bottles you’ll be filling so that they’re easily accessible. I usually aim to set my fermenter on a box or crate on the table I’m using so that the bottom of the fermenter is higher than the top of the tallest bottle to make transfer easier, especially as I get toward the end.
  6. Syphon the mead from the fermenter into the racking tube and hose. Before it spills out entirely, clamp it closed and attach the Auto-syphon racking tube if you’re using it. Or, slip the end into your first bottle.
  7. Fill your bottles one-by-one, leaving enough headspace to accommodate the cork if you’re corking or the cap if you’re caping. You want the least amount of air or oxygen to come into contact with your mead as possible. If you want carbonation, you must leave more headspace – this recipe doesn’t include the steps for natural carbonation, so you’ll need to adjust to include those before you begin the bottling process if that’s the route you’re going.
  8. If you have an assistant, one of you can cap or cork as the other fills the bottles. This recipe fills approximately 5 standard wine bottles (750 ml) or approximately 7 pints (500 ml). I recommend using smaller bottles, like small wine bottles (375 ml). Smaller bottles will allow you to consume one or two glasses at a time, which is the standard dose for a medicinal wine.
  9. Let your Medicinal Mead stand in the bottles for several months at least before giving it your first try. Methaglyns age much like standard Mead or Wine, the longer you let them age the better they’ll taste. I have let some of mine age for over a decade, and they’ve thanked me for it! Keep them in a cool, dark place as you would a good tincture or a fine wine.

Typically, it’s best to use the whole bottle on the same day you open it just as you would a fine wine. The medicine won’t diminish if you let it stand overnight, but the flavor will.

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