Back almost a year ago in my last term of study, I spent a lot of free time walking up the Foss Dyke and seeing what herbs were growing along the river and collecting and processing some of them. I made some tinctures in cheap vodka (how studenty is that?) but I was also a bit short of cash, and there was a heck of a lot of Elderflower about. I wanted to save more than the half litre of vodka I’d bought would make. So, I decided to try making an infusion of Elder Blossom (Sambucus nigra flores) in white wine. I then promptly forgot about the jar of infusing herbs.
Something similar happened later in the autumn: a surfeit of Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) in my garden lead me to think about infusing some I couldn’t tincture in red wine. I thought it might make a good migraine medicine. Later I also put a handful of Lime flowers (Tilia x europea) in there.
Fast forward to a few days ago. I stumbled across the jars of infusing herbs in my dispensary while stock taking and re-organising things. So what are my thoughts?
Sambucus nigra (Elderflower): 1:5 12% alcohol (white wine).
The first thing I noticed when I pressed the Elderflower infused wine was that the smell of the fresh flowers was still very much present; a bitter-sweet ‘tomcat’ ish smell. They were also the same colour as when I put them in the wine to infuse; a delicate creamy white. Elderflowers are quite unstable and prone to losing their aroma and going brown due to oxidative damage. So it appears that the wine stabilised the elderflowers well. How much of the active constituents were extracted in the wine is anyone’s guess without a well equiped lab with HPLC facilities. But the actions of the fresh blossom still seem to be there.
Tasting a 10 ml dose of this wine lead me to assess it as cooling, calming, downwards moving and rather drying/astringent. It felt sedative yet uplifting; somewhat clearing to the mind. A rather calming medicine to take. Actually, my partner also tasted a dose and we ended up having a long philosophical conversation… late at night. It is very freeing to the mind. More so than a tea or the tincture of Elderflower is.
Tanacetum parthenium (Feverfew) & Tilia x europea (Lime): 1:5 12% alcohol (red wine).
This infused wine was made with 1 part of dried Limeflowers to 4 parts of Feverfew. When I made it I had vague ideas that it might be a nice mix for headaches/migraines. Again, the smell and flavour of the herbs seemed to have been well preserved. However this wine tasted really quite sweet, which was un-expected. It had a bitter after-taste which was really quite palatable. It tasted almost spicy and a bit tingley.
My impressions of this preparation were that it was very cooling, also calming. It made my sense of time slow down and was really quite depressant. Initially drying to the mouth, it ended up being moistening. It felt calming and relaxing to the muscles (I didn’t have a headache when I tested it, but I was tense). It was somewhat subduing to the mood.
So, what have I learned from this experiment? Wine extractions of herbs (Is there a name for such a process?) are a valid way of extracting/preserving herbs over winter. They seemed to have preserved well, and still appeared to have good qualities. The most interesting thing, which I wasn’t expecting is that the qualities of these wines were somewhat different from teas or tinctures of the same plants, although generally similar, the wines seemed to have a slightly different profile of action. I’m not sure if this is due to the effects of the wine itself, or the different alcohol/water balance extracting different constituents. Are wine extractions useful clinically? Probably not; unless you have a patient who likes a drink of an evening. However for family use, I think I’ll keep a few medicinal wines in and experiment further with this.
Finally, I’m sure that some are thinking of country wines after reading this article. For instance, a fermented Elderflower wine. As a family, we make a lot of country wines… and we do make elderflower wine. The difference is that there the herbs/fruit/whatever are made into a wort and then fermented. That fermentation will likely denature/destroy a lot of delicate constituents which give the herbs their medicinal action. This experiment was to infuse herbs in a bland wine in a similar fashion to a tincture, thus extracting the medicinanal principles without subjecting them to damage from yeast fungus in the fermentation process. And it shows in the taste. While still aromatic and floral, our Elderflower country wine is nowhere near as delicate and scented as the infusion turned out to be; it also doesn’t have the same calming, uplifting effect on mood.
More experimenting to follow… … I would also love to hear about others’ experiences in this area? Who else has done something like this? Any thoughts?
Categories: Experimental Herbalism