Winecraft: Lively Lemon Balm

With the cold weather, the lemon balm plants have been looking peaked, so I decided to cut them back. In doing so, I harvested a large amount of leaves that were still green and smelled aromatic. How could I make the lemon balm last? By making some wine I can appreciate at my leisure!

As with other herb wines, this one began with, essentially, making an infusion (tea). I washed the leaves, then chopped them and placed them in a fermenting bucket, along with a sliced lemon, a black tea bag, and 2.5 pounds of sugar. Hot water was poured over it all in the bucket, and the mixture was stirred until the sugar had dissolved.

I actually ended up with enough leaves to make a second batch of wine, so I decided to use acid blend (instead of the lemon), powdered tannin (instead of the tea bag), and yeast nutrient. We’ll call this batch #2.

After several hours, the hot tea had cooled enough to pitch the champagne yeast. The next morning, I checked on the batches and discovered that while batch #2 was bubbling enthusiastically, batch #1 was sluggish. No need to panic: yeast nutrient to the rescue! I added a teaspoon of yeast nutrient and stirred it. The next day, it was fermenting actively, too.

The must fermented for 5 days, and then I moved it to a secondary fermenter. Both of the batches have the milky or cloudy look that is typical of herb/tea wines very early in the winemaking process. Both batches, however, should clear to a nice pale gold in a few weeks.

With the freezing temperatures lately, the last few sprigs on the cut-back plants have wilted. Recent sleet didn’t help, either – these plants (like most) don’t like to be covered in ice.

They should come back with warmer weather in the spring; but just in case, I’ve harvested some of the tiny seeds and saved them. You may recognize that they’re about the size of mint seeds (which makes sense, since lemon balm is part of the mint family), and it can be quite a challenge to pick these seeds up with your fingers. If someone has a better technique, please let me know.

Those are some tiny seeds!

This is a truly wonderful, fragrant, and incredibly useful plant, and I would love to have a big garden full of it someday. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reminiscing about the dog days of summer with a glass of lemon balm wine.

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