Tag Archives: Carmelite Water

Sweet Melissa: A Simpler’s recipe.

11 Jan

About a year ago, I wrote a post on Carmelite water, an herb-infused spirit that has many variations, but who’s defining herb is lemon balm.  Lemon balm is also known as sweet melissa.  My first crack at Carmelite water resulted in a spicy brew where I tasted much more clove than lemon balm.  The clove had a numbing effect on my tongue as I drank it– clove oil is known as a good herbal remedy for tooth aches, as it is both antiseptic and analgesic.

Lemon_balm_2

Alas, I don’t have a personal photo of my own lemon balm. Here’s a public domain shot via wikimedia commons.

 

Lemon balm, or Melissa officialis, is a perennial herb.  It’s calming, cooling, uplifting, and mildly astringent.  Used in formulas for belly aches, anxiety, hyperthyroid, colds and viruses.  (source: Dina Falconi’s Foraging and Feasting: a Field Guid and Wild Food Cookbook.)  Lemon balm is also a great ally in the garden.  Its lemony scent is supposed to repel various pests.

For my second try at a Carmelite water, I decided to go with the fresh herb, and only melissa: no other herbs to distract the taste buds.  In the herbalists’ terms, a one-herb infusion is called a “simple.”   Last summer, I planted a lemon balm that flourished in the high sun of my fire escape.  In June, I took an ounce of the leaves and put them in a jar, and I covered them with about 1 1/4 cups of 80 proof Stoli vodka.  Then, I forgot about it.  Here it is:

IMG_3100

Today, over six months later, I rediscovered the jar in the back of my fermentation cabinet.  I decanted the vodka into a glass measuring cup, squeezed out the extra fluid from the leaves, and then tasted some.  The taste is decidedly herbaceous, decidedly the taste of lemon balm, and of course strongly alcoholic.  The alcohol has quite a bite to it.  Last time I made carmelite water, I skipped the part where you add sugar to the mix.  This time around, I heated up a tablespoon of water, added two tablespoons of honey to it, and mixed that into my brew.  This softened the taste, but it is still sure to put some hair on your chest!  Interestingly, I just found a recipe for lemon balm schnapps, apparently  a Danish recipe.  The author only infuses hers for 48 hours and uses significantly less lemon balm.  I supposed my version is really more like a tincture in its herbal strength.

IMG_3103

The infused alcohol is a deep emerald green, although the lighting doesn’t quite tell you that here.

I would call this experiment a success, although I’ve come to the conclusion  that I like the way fresh lemon balm leaves smell way more than I like the way they taste.  I would call picking a fresh leaf from my homegrown plant and smelling the aroma of it crushed between my fingers a kind of ‘peak experience.’  Eating that same leaf or drinking it in vodka hasn’t done it for me.  Perhaps using my original recipe and reducing the clove will create a more balanced blend that incorporates the taste of sweet melissa but makes it more delicious than this simpler’s recipe.  I’d like to call out to my readers:  do you have a favorite use for lemon balm?

 

 

A note of Carmelite and Chaga

25 Feb
A black polypore fungus on a white birch...

Chaga:  A black polypore fungus on a white birch… (Photo credit: Charles de Mille-Isles)

Two nights ago, a friend and fellow fermenter came over to visit. When Monica called, I was in the midst of making some chaga tea for a trial tasting. Chaga is a new acquisition of mine.   I sent Mark, a fellow blogger, a Jun SCOBY a week or so ago, and he sent me the chaga he hand-harvested in exchange. What a fun gift! I had never heard of it, but Monica had, and was super enthusiastic about having some.  Chaga is supposed to have many  health benefits, as in it’s anti- anti- everything.  Cancer, Candida, HIV, Malaria, Inflammation.  You name it, Chaga kills it!  Believe the claims as much as you want to.  Anyway, it’s pretty yummy, and I don’t think it’s even something you have to acquire a taste for, like kombucha can be. My boyfriend’s testament to chaga is that it smells like cooked bananas.  (Smelling is as close as he’s gotten to it:  he is not as adventurous with me when it comes to wildcrafted and fermented things.   He does, however, eat my kimchi with a vengeance).  Chaga is sweet and earthy. The first couple nights I drank it plain and liked it a lot. Tonight I’m sipping it as I write, with a little milk and honey mixed in. Like this, it seems to be a great coffee replacement. It satisfies the same flavor craving, even though it doesn’t really taste like coffee.

Monica samples the Chaga. The bricks of mushroom are there in the baggie by her on the table.

While the chaga was simmering in my Chinatown herb pot, I was also straining out my Carmelite water, an alcohol infusion that I’d been letting sit for the last month.  I discovered this recipe from a book that I randomly picked up at Integral Yoga one time when I was working at their bookstore:  Wild and Weedy Apothecary, by Doreen Shababy.  It’s a fun book written in an almost journalistic way, with herbal inspired recipes from A to Z.

A "bare foot" Carmelite nun

Carmelite water is so called because it was allegedly first created by the Carmelite nuns in Paris in 1611.

A web search on the stuff will offer you a few variations on the recipe, but the ingredient they all agree on is lemon balm, also known as Melissa.  Lemon Balm is known as a nervine tonic.  It’s good to calm the nerves, and also good for digestion, headaches and menstrual cramps.  Monica and I found the combination of  lemon balm and the high alcohol content to be very effective in calming our nerves.  Nuns in the carmelite order are known to have a proportionally large amount of holy visions.  If they were drinking this stuff all the time, I know why!

Monica double fisting the chaga and the Carmelite water. Notice the “calming” effect that Carmelite water has had on her after one sip! Later I read on Mark’s blog that Chaga and alcohol don’t mix well. Oops!

Shababy adds sugar to her Carmelite water.  I omitted the sugar to keep the brew more versatile:  aside from being a beverage it can double as a perfume (haven’t tried that part yet), and I didn’t want to be spraying  sugar on my body.  The other change I made was replacing her angelica leaves with angelica root, because that’s what I found at my local herb store.  The resulting recipe is spicy and bitter.  I can see how it would make a great digestif.

Carmelite Water

4 Tbsp dried lemon balm leaves

3Tbsp dried angelica root

2 Tbsp whole cloves

1 Tbsp whole coriander seed

1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

2 c good quality vodka.  I used Stolichnaya, 80 proof.   A high proof liquor is safer for tincture infusions because it kills off any bacteria that might spoil the infusion.  Shababy says the infusion should have a shelf life of 6 months.  I’m guessing that the high proof vodka would help it last longer.  Another recipe I saw online is a wine version of the beverage, if you want to go for something lighter to drink.

Combine all the ingredients in a jar, cover and let infuse for a month.  Shake it every day, whenever you think of it.  The infusion will turn a dark brown.  The proportions I used make it very spice heavy.  You could certainly play with different proportions of herbs and spices for a lemon-balmier blend as well.   After a month, strain out the herbs, and consume.  We drank it neat, in little sips the other night.  It is basically a bitters, however, so I think it would be great in small amounts to spruce up a cocktail.  I can also easily imagine drinking it with ice and a little simple syrup or honey mixed in.

English: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), her...

English: Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), herb garden, St. Andrew’s-Sewanee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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