A few weeks ago, I spent an afternoon going through a stack of Medicine Making books at a local bookstore. And I came across a very interesting recipe: Carmelite Water. This recipe contained a few ingredients that really excite me: Lemon Balm and alcohol. I have been thinking about this recipe ever since. Then, a few days later, a friend sent me a DIY Pastis recipe which contains Star Anise, Licorice Root, and other herbs......and booze. I am sold. The Universe is telling me to start making Aperitifs.
An Aperitif is a alcoholic drink consumed before a meal. Usually something, dry, and containing a blend of alcohol and medicinal plants to help prepare the body for a meal. A Digestif is much the same, but served after a meal to help aid digestion. A digestif may contain bitter components or carminative herbs, which keep the gastric juices flowing and prevent gas from forming. If you enjoy sipping on a cocktail before and after a meal, thank the Europeans for this trend. Aperitifs and digestifs are custom throughout Europe, and have been for centuries. Many European countries have their own heavily guarded recipes and rituals. This idea of book-ending a meal with booze, loaded with medicinal plants sounds great to me.
Carmelite Water caught my eye because of its history, and it's use of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon Balm has an uplifting scent, yet mildly relaxing for the mind and body. Lemon Balm is anti-viral, a carminative, and it helps ease anxiety that causes digestive problems such as heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea. The recipe is a medicinal formula created by the Carmelite nuns sometime in the 14th century. Records show it was used as an herbal tonic and as a toilet water, which is a terrible word for "skin freshener." This recipe also includes Angelica Root. Angelica Root is a warming herb which helps improve circulation, and it has bitter components to aid digestion. Also known as "Dang Gui", the root is highly prized in China. Angelica Root is taken for "deficient blood" and to help invigorate or bring vitality back to the body. Try making Carmelite Water using the recipe below. You could also substitute brandy with a white wine. Typically, herbs need around 4 weeks of steep time in alcohol, but feel free to taste each week to see how the mixture is coming along.
Carmelite Water Recipe
3 parts Lemon Balm leaf
1 part Angelica root
1/2 part coriander seed
1/2 part lemon peel
1/4 part nutmeg
80 proof Brandy or Vodka
Place all ingredients in a mason jar, pour Brandy or vodka over the herbs so they are completely submerged in liquid, with some ability to move around when shaken. Store in a cool dark place for 2-4 weeks. If desired, add warmed honey before bottling.
* This recipe calls for dried lemon balm. If you have some growing in your garden, use fresh!
Pastis is a anise flavored aperitif heavily enjoyed in Southern France, and arguably the national drink of France. Some say Pastis was invented by a monk who was looking to brew an "elixir of life". Scholars traced Pastis' roots back to a hermit hiding out in the forests of France to avoid the Bubonic Plague. He concocted an herbal blend of anise seed, and other roots and plants with the strength and power to ward of illness and disease. Once the plague subsided, he headed south to Marseille, France and began sharing his elixir with the community.
The recipe is not set in stone, and many variations exist. But they all seem to include Anise Seed, Star Anise, and Licorice Root. While Anise Seed and Star Anise are similar in taste and medicinal properties, Star Anise (Illicium verum) comes from China, and is a member of the Magnolia family. Anise seed comes from Pimpinella anisum, a member of the Parsley Family. Both plants are anti-bacterial, a carminative, and a sialagogue (increases the flow of saliva).
With the addition of Licorice Root, this recipe becomes even more powerful and medicinal. Licorice Root is such an important herb. Perhaps another post can be dedicated to this special plant. In a nutshell, Licorice Root is an anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and is considered a liver protective. An ally during times of inflammation and illness. Below is the recipe. Feel free to experiment with other herbs such as sage or black pepper.
10 star anise pods
1 tablespoon licorice root
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1 1/2 cups vodka
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
Break up the first fie ingredients in a spice blender or mortar and pestle. Place in a mason jar and add vodka.
Seal and shake each day for 5 days.
Boil sugar and water to make a syrup, and let cool. While the syrup is cooling, strain the vodka to remove all spices and sediment.
Add cooled syrup to the vodka and shake.
Store at room temperature for up to 4 months or in the refrigerator.