How to make German May Wine
using Sweet Woodruff
In Germany, the first of May was traditionally celebrated with this delightful sparkling Maiwein drink, infused with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) a member of the same family as cleavers (Galium aparine) and lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum).
Like many plants it contains coumarins which smell somewhat like new mown hay. Sweet woodruff has little smell until you dry it, when it is transformed by an amazing sweet, vanilla smelling scent. Last year I hung a bunch in my car and it made the best car air freshener ever! In the Middle Ages it was used for scenting floors, mixed in with the straw.
One side note about coumarins – large doses can make you feel a bit nauseous so May Wine is for lightly imbibing or you’ll end up with a terrific hangover! Studies of coumarin in sweet woodruff recommend you do not exceed 3.5 grams fresh woodruff per litre of wine. This recipe makes 2 litres, so to keep within recommended safe levels weigh your sweet woodruff and use no more than 7 grams. At the stage that I pick it, 1 sprig is approximately 1 gram.
7 springs of fresh sweet woodruff
1 bottle of light white wine (German Reisling)
1 bottle of sparkling wine (Prosecco, Sekt, champagne)
(Or for a less alcoholic version, 1 bottle of soda water)
1 punnet strawberries (quartered)
Pour the white wine into a jug over the sprigs of sweet woodruff and leave overnight. The next day, add the sparkling wine or soda (slowly!) and pour into glasses over the chopped strawberries. Garnish with sprigs of sweet woodruff or edible flowers such as violets, daisies or primroses.
If you can only get dried sweet woodruff, use 1/2 cup of organic dried herb and only infuse for 1 hour (2 at the most). Strain out the herb, then add the sparkling wine or soda.
Use little wild strawberries if you can find them (not in Scotland at this time of year).
Alternatively you can use rhubarb or Japanese knotweed. In this case, simmer 500ml of chopped rhubarb or knotweed with 50 grams of sugar until it is extremely soft. Add to the infused wine before you add the sparkling wine and give it a good stir. Strain the wine to remove the woodruff and rhubarb/knotweed pulp. Then return to the jug and add the sparkling wine or soda. Pour into chilled glasses and decorate with edible flowers.
Remember if foraging for Japanese knotweed to trim the plant on site and do not disperse any part of it away from the site. Make sure everything you bring home goes into the saucepan. This is because even small trimmings will grow. It is illegal to cause Japanese knotweed to grow and spread, as it is an invasive, controlled plant!