Monday 18 March 2013

Creating your own tonic wines

Many thanks to Ali English from Eldrum Herbs who delivered a workshop at last year's Springfield Sanctuary Festival teaching us  how to make tonic wines.

Wine has been used as a medium for taking herbal medicines since classical times. It is best to use dried herbs when making a tonic wine rather than fresh to minimise the water content. The medicine can be produced in the wine bottle by removing a glassful from the bottle before adding the herbs, or in a jam jar or Kilner jar if that is easier.  The wine should be left to infuse for two weeks before straining and drinking. The daily dose is 20-40mls or the equivalent of a small sherry glass. It should be sipped slowly and savoured. Medicinal wines should be used within one month.

White wine is predominantly used for relaxing remedies and red wine works best with herbs for the digestive system. Remember that herbs can work on many different systems, so chamomile might be included in both a digestive and a stress mixture. Vervain can be used for adrenal support in a stress remedy but is also a bitter. Peppermint is best used in white wine although it is a digestive. It doesn’t blend well in red wine.

Herbal combinations 

Stress: skullcap, vervain, jasmine and wood betony
Sleep: passionflower (leaves and flowering tops), lemon balm
Digestive: crushed fennel seed, ground ivy, chamomile
Anaemia: young nettle tops, organic apricots, diced orange peel in red wine
Post surgery for broken bones: nettles, plantain, prunes or figs, dandelion or milk thistle seeds

Historical tonics tend to favour fortified wines as well as red wines and combine several herbs and spices within the mix.

Aromatic Wine
2-pints red wine
1/2 Tbsp. sage leaves
2 Tbsps. thyme leaves
2 Tbsps. hyssop leaves
2 Tbsps. spearmint leaves
2 Tbsps. wormwood leaves
2 Tbsps. marjoram herb
Use dried herbs
Chop the herbs into a coarse powder. Moisten the powders with some of the claret. Pack into a coffee machine, using parchment paper. Pour the claret over the herbs. It should yield about 1 pint of filtered liquid.

This French formula possesses strong tonic and aromatic properties. It is useful for invalids with feeble digestions and will also help with flatulence and other digestive disturbances. Use 1 tablespoon at a time. For ulcers, use heated as a fomentation.

Tonic Wine
1 pint Madeira
1 sprig wormwood
1 sprig rosemary
1 small bruised nutmeg
1 inch bruised ginger root
1 inch bruised cinnamon bark
12 large organic raisins
Pour off about an ounce of the wine. Place herbs in the wine. Cork the bottle tightly. Place the bottle in a dark, cool place for a week or two. Strain off the herbs.

Juliette de Bairacli’s medicated wine
Several sprigs of rosemary and wormwood
6 candied cherries
2 nutmegs
1 inch cinnamon
Candied angelica
Bruised ginger root
1 doz large raisins
Pour over wine and leave in warm place for 1-2 weeks

Sarah Head’s medicated wine
6-8 sprigs rosemary (fresh)
2 sprigs mugwort (dried, but can use fresh)
2 handfuls of organic apricots
2 grated nutmegs
1 inch grated ginger root
1 quill cinnamon bark broken into pieces
Place ingredients in a 2lb glass jar, cover with Madeira wine, seal with screw top lid, label and date. Leave in a warm, dark cupboard/airing cupboard for 2-4 weeks. Strain and bottle. Take one small shot glass full as required.

Tonic wines can be fun to make, like elixirs but use them in medicinal quantities rather than sharing with friends as part of an alcoholic night in! You may find the flavours take some getting used to. Do not use with children under twelve or frail elders or people with compromised livers or alcohol problems.


wildcraft diva said...

Lovely way to use herbs!!!

Comfrey Cottages said...

This is something I have not experimented with as I really am not much of a drinker..but as a theraputic dose, I think it is high time the experimentation begins! Thank you for sharing, Sarah xxx

Madeleine said...

Lovely post, thank you!

laura h said...

What do mean - pack it all in a coffee machine, and pour wine over?

Sarah Head said...

Hi Laura, the recipe for this tonic is made using a filter coffee system i.e. a cafatiere or french coffee press. The amount of time you leave the wine to infuse the herbs would be less than the normal method of putting everything in a glass jar and infusing for two weeks. Possibly because the recipe uses dried herbs and they are using the wine only to soak the herbs in a cold maceration rather than hot water infuses coffee. The recipe comes from an old herbal and was given me by a friend. I have made it, but using the steep for two/three weeks in a jar method. It had a strong, medicinal flavour.

Unknown said...

“Tonic wines can be fun to make, like elixirs but use them in medicinal quantities..”— I couldn't agree more, Sarah. Tonics are used to help invigorate the body system. So, taking too much of this can lead to restlessness and too much stress.