Happy Belated Spring Equinox! In this tardy post, we’re going to infuse healing herbs into honeyed wine, and offer a toast to Anna Perenna the Roman Goddess of long life and good health. Her festival and feast were held when her powers were most manifest – at the return of spring. And according to the Roman scholar, Macrobius her holiday was celebrated with “great joy and merriment” and plenty of wine.
Her name – Anna “to live through a year”, and perenna “last many years” are the source for the words annual and perennial. She is the circle of the year and is described in some legends as old and in others as young. Some scholars suggest her origins stretch back to a mother goddess of the Etruscans, the original occupants of the Italian peninsula. Said to have been an egalitarian culture they were also the originators of viticulture -the making of wine! In 1999 the remains of Anna Perrena’s Fountain was excavated in Rome. Dating back to the 4th century BC, its inscription reads”To the nymphs consecrated to Anna Perenna”.
At her sacred grove near Via Flaminia, at her sanctuary in Sicily and in Rome people gathered to mark the new beginning of the cycle of seasons, and Macrobious tells us offerings were made so that ” the circle of the year may be completed happily”. Ovid writes how tents were pitched or bowers built from branches, where lad lay beside lass, “and people asked that Anna bestow as many more years to them as they could drink cups of wine.”
And in Rome, this likely meant plenty of mulsum, a herb and spiced infused honey wine reputed to have healing powers. Wild grapes weren’t as sweet as the hybrid grapes today, so to reduce the bitterness and acidity the Romans diluted wine with water and often mixed in honey. Alcohol is an excellent method of extracting the active elements from plants and so spices and herbs were added for flavour and to bolster the wines medicinal powers.
Considered one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world, it was always served for important Roman occasions and at the first course of dinner. Recipes for Mulsum vary widely, but most include red wine. I decided to go with white because I happened to have a bottle handy. And for herbs I decided to go with those Roman aromatic favourites, rosemary, sage and lemon balm – also because they were handy – but mostly because they’re all jam-packed with healing compounds.
Sage has been credited with the powers of immortality and is one of our oldest medicinal herbs. Today we’ve discovered its immunomodulatory powers to balance and revitalize the immune system. Rich in phytochemicals and phenolic compounds offering antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-mutagenic and anti-cancer protection, it’s no wonder its name comes from the Latin word salvo (to save or heal).
Rosemary has similar anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory benefits and is rich in antioxidants which play a critical role in neutralizing harmful free radicals. It also demonstrates anti-viral capacities in the form of Oleanolic acid which has been shown to be effective treating in influenza, in animal and test-tube studies (27)
According to Swiss physician and alchemist, Paracelsus lemon balm increased vitality and was an “elixir of life”. Today a variety of studies suggest lemon balm is a potent source of compounds with antiviral activity. And according to this study “Lemon balm derivatives are going to acquire a novelty as a natural and potent remedy for treatment of viral infections since the influenza viruses are developing resistance to the current antivirals widely. ”
In our current climate of escalating health concerns, I find it comforting that we have many of mother nature’s healing allies so close at hand. These are only a few of the many common garden herbs like peppermint, spearmint, basil, marjoram, lavender and many others in the Lamiaceae family which offer immune support and help in fighting off nasty viruses. So any combination of these herbs you desire (or have handy) will do the trick.
You could also try a herbal infused sake (pictured above) – a lovely Japanese tradition. Click for the recipe here. And pictured below is honeyed gorse infused mulsum I made last year. The recipe is in the Gather Victoria ECookery Book for Gather Patrons.
So while we may not be able to cavort in large groups with merrimaking at this time, we can still keep with tradition and lift a toast to Anna Perenna, to spring and our good health! Salut!
Rosemary, Lemon balm & Sage Mulsum (w/ just a touch of Lavender)
(approx. 4 cups)
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 cup wine
- 4 tbsp honey
- 2 small sprigs rosemary
- 2 small sprigs sage
- 4-6 sprigs (about a cup) of lemon balm
- 2 small strips of lemon rind
- 2 small lavender buds
Add the water, wine and honey to a large container or pitcher and stir well. If your honey is thick heat gently until thin or whir the wine, water and honey together in a blender.
One thoroughly mixed transfer to a large bottle or pitcher.
Add the herbs and lemon rind to the wine.
Let sit 24 hours.
Sieve off your herbs.
It’s ready to serve. You can serve warm if you wish as well.