If you’re looking to lift a toast for the Spring Equinox, I’ve got the perfect libation! We’re going to infuse aromatic healing herbs into honeyed wine, and offer a toast to Anna Perenna the Roman Goddess of long life, renewal and good health. Her annual festival and feast were held in March when her powers were most manifest – at the birth of spring, of course!
Her holiday fell on the Ides of March on the first full (or new moon) in the year in the old lunar Roman calendar and was held at the grove of the goddess at the first milestone on the Via Flaminia. And according to the Roman scholar Macrobius, was celebrated with feasting, “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 and the originators of viticulture -the making of wine.
Both Macrobius and Poet Ovid tell us that at her sacred grove on the Via Flaminia, at her sanctuary in Sicily and in Rome, people gathered to mark the new beginning of the cycle of seasons. Wine libations were poured and offerings made to Anna Perenna so that ” the circle of the year may be completed happily”. People had picnics on the banks of the Tiber and 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 most likely meant plenty of Mulsum, a herb and spiced infused honey wine considered one of the oldest alcoholic drinks in the world. Mulsum was commonly served for important Roman occasions and at the first course of dinner. It was also reputed to have great healing powers – and the ability to restore youth!
Grapes weren’t as sweet as the hybrid grapes today, so to reduce bitterness and acidity the Romans diluted wine with water and often mixed in honey. Honey was more than just a sweetener, it was considered a healing substance in itself. 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.
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, 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 and according to this study lemon balm offers a natural and potent remedy for the treatment of viral infections and influenza viruses. And let’s not forget that the legendary Swiss physician and alchemist Paracelsus considered lemon balm the “elixir of life”!
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 herbs in this family will help 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 Gorse infused Mulsum I made last year for the Gather Victoria E-Cookery Book. But whatever version you decide to make I’m sure Anna Perenna will bless it – and you – with happiness, health and healing. So here’s to Anna Perenna and to spring! 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 of rosemary
- 2 small sprigs of 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 whirr up 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. You can serve chilled, room temperature or warmed like a mulled wine.