What can be more delicious, cool and reviving on a warm sultry evening than Herb & Blossom Infused Sake served chilled over ice? Who knew that Sake, a dry Japanese rice wine, made such a gracious host for herbal and floral infusions? Well, the Japanese of course – but more on that later.
Infused Sake is so easy and simple to make, it’s just a matter of stepping out into your landscape and harvesting a couple of handfuls of whatever aromatic plant is at hand. Then place your leaves and/or blossoms in a large jar, pour sake over it, let it sit in the sun for 5-6 hours. Strain. Chill. Serve. That’s it.
The hardest part is choosing your flavour infusions. Right now our fields are awash with the sweet vanilla carroty top notes of Queen’s Anne’s Lace, the heady anise fragrance of Fennel, the bitter resins of Yarrow, and the honeyed Chamomile gentleness of Pineapple Weed.
In the forests, the needles of Grand Fir and Spruce offer woodsy and citrusy zest, and wild berries like Salal, Oregon Grape and Black Hawthorn Berry bring dark fruity depth.
Spicy, tangy, woodsy or flowery – however you choose to make it – the wonderful thing about Sake is that it holds its own with stronger flavours while enhancing more subtle or delicate ones. So far I’ve infused Lavender & Oregon Grape, Rose & Raspberry & Lemon Balm, Blackberry & Fennel, Queen’s Anne’s Lace & Salal Berry with good success.
From pale green and yellow to bright pink, these jewel-coloured liquids are not only a joy to behold, they are a veritable health enhancing elixir. As every herbalist knows, infusing plants and herbs in wine is a well-known way to extract their medicinal properties – and these plants are bursting with nutritive antioxidants, phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, not to mention anti-inflammatory, hormone balancing, and immune system boosting agents.
The final thing to keep in mind when creating your Sake is its tradition. Long associated with Shinto, the ancient indigenous religion of Japan, Sake was considered the sacred drink of the Kami, the gods or natural divinity that manifests in earth, water, mountains, rocks, trees, plants and animals. In Shinto ceremonial rituals Sake is shared with worshippers at shrine festivals and important agricultural celebrations in order to bring “people and the gods closer together”.
Infusing Sake with herbs and flowers was part of these seasonal traditions. Each New Year a special Sake is brewed with a blend of herbs called O-tosa, this ensures family harmony and prosperity in the coming year. Peach and Cherry blossoms were infused into Sake for spring agricultural festivals called Momo no Sekku (Peach Seasonal Festival) and Hanamizake (Flower Viewing Sake). There is even a Moon Viewing Sake Tsukimizake, to be enjoyed by the full moon of fall harvest festivals.
So in closing, I encourage you to “wildcraft” your Sake keeping these traditions in mind. Choose your plants to reflect the vitality, beauty and meaning of the season. Be respectful and honour their Kami.
And when it comes to drinking Sake remember that in Japan it is traditionally shared by family members and friends and raised to toast the most important bonds in life. Thus one should never pour your own cup of sake, it must be poured by a friend and likewise. So gather those who are near and dear, Sake is meant to be shared with the people you love. Salut!