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PO Box 261, Fredonia, NY  14063

716-997-2007


Fredonia, New York
USA

Herb-Infused Booze

Herbal Writing & Recipes

For educational purposes only. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Herb-Infused Booze

Sarah Sorci

The infusion of wine and liquor with medicinal plants has been done for thousands of years. Early records come from ancient China, the Greek physician Galen, and around the world. The US Pharmacopoeia VIII of 1906 included eight medicated wines, and the 1916 National Formulary IV offered official formulas for fifteen. Wine and liquor offer many benefits as solvents; their mixture of water + alcohol (generally 12-50% alcohol) allows for the dissolution of both water-soluble and alcohol-soluble plant constituents. Their acidity further enhances solvency.
 
When Prohibition hit the US, medicated wines went out of style and were erased from the Pharmacopoeia and Formulary. Many modern herbalists, including myself, offer grain or cane sugar alcohol tinctures for greater dosing precision and predictability. However, as herbalist James Green muses, tinctures often strike a “rather solemn, clinical” chord, whereas “the spirit of imbibing an herbal wine lends itself more to the mental and spiritual celebration of health and wellness.”
 
Europeans have a grand history of blending the social + medicinal with aperitifs and digestifs. These pre- and post-meal beverages are often infused with digestion-stimulating bitters (ex. angelica, gentian) and/or carminatives, whose volatile oils support gastric emptying and peristalsis (ex. chamomile, cinnamon, ginger, anise). 

Infusing alcoholic drinks is simple! Think making tea, with alcohol. Steep chopped plant parts in alcohol for a few days to a few months, and the plants' constituents are pulled into solution. No heat required. Strain, and enjoy.
 
Below are a few simple drinks I’ve enjoyed this holiday season. Click here for these recipes and more.
 
Chamomile+Rosehips Chardonnay
Chamomile is a nervous system relaxant of Sleepy Time Tea fame. Studies have demonstrated its digestion-aiding abilities due to volatile oils and anti-inflammatory constituents.  Chamomile’s pleasant flavor also accounts for its rich history of infusion into alcoholic beverages. It is an ingredient in Hendrick’s Gin, vermouth, and chamomile liqueur. Marolo distillery infuses chamomile in grappa (brandy), producing a tasty digestif. The rosehips in this drink add a pleasing rosy hue, plus a kick of vitamin C.
 
Winter Spice Brandy or Merlot   Cinnamon+cloves+allspice+orange peel
 
 “No one knows where cinnamon sticks come from. There is a bird called the cinnamon bird that gathers the fragrant twigs form some unknown location and builds its nest from them. To harvest the cinnamon, people attach weights to the tips of arrows and shoot the nests down.”
                      -Aristotle, Historia Animalium, 350 BC. 
 
Unbeknownst to Aristotle, Cinnamomum verum is native to Sri Lanka—where the highest quality cinnamon still hails from.  In addition to jazzing up my oatmeal, it is used widely in gin, vermouth, liqueurs, and bitters. There is wisdom to adding cinnamon to the sweet, warming foods and beverages of wintertime. The bark has been shown to moderate spikes in blood sugar, and is employed in herbal medicine for its “warming, moving,” circulation-stimulating properties.
 
Cloves are tightly closed flower buds, dried quickly to avoid fermentation. According to Amy Stewart, the taste of cloves works well with other flavors; it “intensifies vanilla flavors, and adds a level of complexity to citrus. Many nutty and spicy flavors rely on cloves to support and amplify other flavors, including amaretto, alkermes, and some vermouths and amaros.”
 

Countless plants have been infused into wines and liquors--  check out Amy Stewart’s The Drunken Botanist for inspiration. Try digestive bitters like angelica or calamus; the “spicy sweet bass note” of fenugreek (Stewart); chai or coffee; figs + cardamom; fresh ginger; or the vitamin-C rich, festive flavor of conifer tips with citrus peel. 

Sources: 
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook. Berkeley: 2000. pp. 170-171.
Stewart, Amy. The Drunken Botanist.  Chapel Hill, 2013. pp. 152, 161, 205, 241.