When strawberries are bursting forth and the lemon balm is bright green in the garden, make some brews! Sunshine and springtime in a bottle - this is a luscious pink mead that soothes the nerves and delights the senses!
Nothing quite announces “Summer is here!” like white gallon buckets and baskets of strawberries that pop up at farm markets and roadside stands in early May. In our home, we celebrate Beltane by quaffing mead infused with woodruff and fresh strawberries. We buy huge baskets of strawberries and eat them fresh, dry them, freeze them, and make syrups, jams, and brews to put away for fall. The flavor of sweet, ripe strawberries in midwinter is a balm to the winter-abused soul.
We grow some of our own strawberries in a big tractor tire in the backyard, but we don’t get a lot of fruit. Just enough to snack on while puttering around the yard in the early evening before dinner.
This spring’s strawberry plans included a gallon batch of mead, but I was uncertain about what complementary flavors to add to this batch. Past experiments have included strawberry and linden (lovely!) and strawberry and pineapple (zippy!) but nothing seemed quite right. My daily garden ramble took me past lavender, rosemary, and other culinary herbs, but my recipe was set in stone the moment I saw the lemon balm exploding along the fencerow. I could hear the angels singing!
Lemon balm has plenty of culinary uses and medicinal uses, both. Sensually, it is a fragrant herb and one pleasant to smell or chew fresh from the plant. It is in the mint family and grows just as ferociously as peppermint does – for all of my chopping and hacking at the lemon balm throughout spring and summer, I never run out.
I have a recipe for my Lemon Balm Mead in my book Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing. I’ve also made a Motherwort & Lemon Balm Brew that is a lovely drink for when you need a bit of emotional support, and I usually make it every summer to have it ready to drink by the grey, mushy parts of winter where I tend to get depressed.Print
Strawberry & Lemon Balm Mead
This is a truly wonderful beverage – everything about it is cheering, from its pink hue to the strawberry aroma to the effects of the lemon balm on frazzled nerves.
For best results, chop and freeze your strawberries in advance, then toss them in the wine bag and let them thaw in a bowl before you brew. The fruit releases more juice that way!
- 1 gallon (3.79 L) of water
- 1 quart (3 lbs) of honey
- 1 big handful of fresh-cut lemon balm stems and leaves (about 4 cups)
- 1 gallon (about 2 lbs) of rough-diced strawberries
- 1 bag of linden tea (black or green tea are fine substitutions!)
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
- 1/2 packet (about 1 tsp) of yeast (I used Safale 04 Dry Ale Yeast)
- Prepare by sanitizing the brewing bucket, airlock, a spoon, the brewing bag, and anything else that will come into contact with the mead.
- Pour half of the water into a stock pot and let it come to a boil.
- While the water is heating, add the zest and tea bag to the pot.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add in the lemon balm leaves and stems. Cover the pot with a lid to keep the volatile oils from the lemon balm in the brew, not escaping with the steam! Let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Pour in the quart jar of honey, stirring until it is dissolved.
- Put the strawberries in the brew bag and tie it shut. Place it in the sanitized brewing bucket.
- Set a strainer or colander over the bucket and pour the must (the honey and water) into the bucket. Discard or compost the lemon zest and lemon balm.
- Add the lemon juice and the rest of the water to the bucket. Cover it with the sanitized lid and airlock until it reaches body temperature to touch.
- Once the brew is cool enough, pitch the yeast by sprinkling it on top of everything. Give it a stir with a sanitized spoon.
- Every day, pick up the bucket and give it a gentle swish, or open it and stir it with a sanitized spoon. Make sure that the bag of strawberries gets dunked regularly to keep it from growing mold on the surface of the brew. There should be visible fermentation activity after the first day, with bubbles on the surface of the brew and occasional bubbling in the airlock.
- After 3 days, rack or very gently pour the mead into a clean, sanitized gallon jug. When you are removing the strawberries, let the bag drip into the bucket for a minute but don’t squeeze it, or you could release pectin into the brew which will make it hazy and hard to clear.
- Put an airlock and bung into the jug, label it, and set it aside in a dark, cool place to ferment.
- If you have leftover brew in the bucket, you can go ahead and drink it! If you want to save it for later, put it in a bottle in the fridge and enjoy it soon. It’s safest to store it in a plastic bottle since it could still be fermenting. This is just a lower-alcohol, preview version of your finished product!
- Bottle the mead when it is done fermenting. You can tell it is ready when there are no bubbles rising to the surface from the yeast sludge (lees) on the bottom of the jug and the mead has cleared. If it takes longer than a month or two to clear, try racking the mead over into a sanitized carboy. Getting it off of the lees can speed up the clearing of the mead.