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Botanical mead

Mead is a typical beverage on the May Day celebrations in Finland, and we made our almost zero waste beverage with meadowsweet, for a botanical wild food version of the traditional drink.

Finnish mead (sima) is usually made with granulated brown sugar, lemons and a tiny amount of fresh yeast, so unlike some honey meads it’s generally vegan here (do check the labels if buying though). 

It’s also a homemade low or zero waste lemonade, and definitely easy to make with ingredients packed plastic-free. Sugar is available in a paper bags or cardboard boxes, and it can be bought in bulk too (local bulk/snack shop P&S has sugars). Raisins are also available in bulk! I bought some golden big ones. Lemons are sold without plastic wraps. Fresh yeast is wrapped in paper, which according to the manufacturer is compostable. Water comes from the tap. Wild herbs I’ve gathered from the meadow last year, dried and stored in glass jars.

Mead is an ancient, prehistoric drink, the first inklings of it found from pottery vessels in northern China dating back to 7000 BCE, over nine thousand years ago. And it has possibly been around in Europe for four thousand years. Mead is made all around the word, and it has been associated with poetry and heroism. Pliny the Elder mentioned mead in his Naturalis Historia, and it’s also featured in Germanic folk tales. And it’s also in the works of J.K.Rowling, as Madam Rosmerta’s oak matured mead!

Medieval meads were quite different from the ones we drink today, their alcohol content was higher, and they were matured for as long as a year. Mead was a popular festive drink all year around, it was brewed in the castle of Turku, and was also imported to Finland when it’s popularity peaked. Throughout the centuries it changed to resemble the milder modern version brewed and enjoyed today. There’s no clear certainty of why it’s drank these days specifically during May Day celebrations. I think it’s quite lovely people still make their own, and the craft lives on.

We served our mead from an old, thoroughly washed medicinal glass bottle (the actual fermenting needs a tighter cap!).

Mead flavoured with spices or herbs (meadowsweet is historically mentioned as an example!) is apparently called metheglin, and mead containing fruit melomel. I made our mead with lemon, and dried meadowsweet I picked last year, adding both flowers and leaves, and a pinch of mint.

Botanical mead

2 1/2 litres water
3 dl sugar (unrefined)
1-2 lemons
A handful of dried meadowsweet*
Fresh mint, few leaves (optional)
Fresh yeast, half a pea sized lump

Wash the lemons carefully, coarsely grate one and squeeze the juice into a bowl. Slice the other thinly.  Boil 1 litre of the water, add the sugar, lemon juice, peel and slices. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves. Add the meadowsweet and optional mint, then pour on the remaining 1 1/2 litres of cold water. Check that the liquid’s about room temperature, then add the tiny speck of yeast (I dissolved it into a thimbleful of water first). Stir well. Let sit for 12-24 hours in room temperature covered with cloth or lid. 

Sieve through wire mesh colander and pour (a funnel helps) into clean bottles suitable for fermenting drinks. Repurposed lemonade bottles are great. Add a pinch of sugar to each bottle, and few raisins. Either refrigerate or keep at room temperature, in the fridge the fermentation takes about a week, at room temp few days. The mead is ready when the raisins rise to the top. Cool before serving, and consume within a week after opening!

Mead is traditionally drank with sugarcoated deep fried doughnuts, but it’s perhaps even better as a lovely brunch beverage. We’re tempted to test it in drink mixes with gin or sparkling wine, or paired with picnic sandwiches (maybe with the first crisp ground elder / Aegopodium podagraria leaves and some grilled tofu).

Mead with meadowsweet on top

*If meadowsweet is unavailable, you can simply use little more lemon, or add some lime or ginger. Or other edible leaves: My aunt makes Midsummer’s mead with fresh blackcurrant leaves, and it’s wonderful. Also note that meadowsweet can cause symptoms for folk with aspirin allergy, so be careful and check the suitability for guests and like. Also when picking wild plants, remember that proper identification is key! 

– Amir

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