Lemon balm mead is a delightful herbal honey wine that captures the essence of summer for year-round enjoyment. This simple herbal brew is easy to make at home and is the perfect way to use a bumper crop of lemon balm.
Our lemon balm patch is especially prolific, and it’s one of the few things that really loves our shady, cool and wet Vermont soils. I’m always one the lookout for new lemon balm recipes, and when my friend Amber sent me a copy of her new book Artisanal Small-Batch Brewing, the very first thing that caught my eye was her recipe for Lemon Balm Mead.
Here’s how it’s described in the book: “Also known as ‘Sweet Melissa,’ lemon balm is a heart-lifting, aromatic herb from the mint family. If you’ve ever grown it, then you’ll know that it is vigorous and you often have more lemon balm than you know what to do with. Along with teas, cookies, syrups and sugared leaves, you can use up your harvest with a gallon of bright, invigorating mead!”
In truth, there are plenty of epic homemade wines, ciders, and meads in her book. Shortly after I made this brew, I started a batch of pineapple mead inspired by her recipe, and the recipe for rose cider with fresh rose petals is calling my name. This fall, I’m going to make her dark ginger cider, and I’m going to try her technique to make homemade perry (pear cider) and pomegranate wine.
There’s even a recipe for Scarborough fair wine, with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. I’m a big lover or herbal fermentation, and this book has plenty to catch my eye. Still…lemon balm mead is too good to pass up.
Lemon balm is a medicinal herb, and it’s traditionally used for calming anxiety and easing digestive issues. It’s generally taken for depression, stress, anxiety, and insomnia.
Infusing herbs into wine, mead, and ale was common a century ago, and is a really lovely way to take your medicine. It also helps preserve the medicinal properties of herbs for year-round use. While lemon balm may grow like a weed in the summertime, it’s nice to have a bit put up when winter depression sets in up here in the north country.
Generally, when I’m making a floral or herbal wine/mead I opt for cold infusion, as I did in my dandelion wine and lilac wine. I’ll chop the herbs fine, and place them into the fermenter with cooled syrup and yeast. I allow them to infuse during the primary fermentation step, and then I filter them out after about a week and put the demijohns into the basement for a month or two so the yeast can finish their work.
This recipe is different though, and honestly, much easier to work with. There’s no lemon balm in the fermenter to clog up the water lock, and there’s still plenty of lemon balm flavor. Start by bringing the water to a boil, then add honey and stir to dissolve. Next, chop up fresh lemon balm and fresh lemon and place them in the hot syrup for about 15 minutes to infuse.
Ambers recipe is for the folk tradition of mead making, using natural ingredients instead of winemaking additives. You won’t find any chemical yeast nutrient or tannin powder in her recipes. She opts for a handful of raisins to help nourish the yeast, and a bit of strongly brewed black tea for tannin to balance out the body of her homemade wines.
Normally, I’m right there with her. I use yeast nutrient when I want a really clean flavor without any caramel overtones from the raisins, like in my lemon wine. The problem this time though, is that my two toddler raisin fiends ate up all the raisins in the house. So here I have the perfect recipe for a natural herbal mead, and I’m adding yeast nutrient to it out of necessity. Oh well.
No judgment, either way, use whatever suits your tastes. Feel free to add raisins or yeast nutrient based on what you have on hand, but either way, the yeast needs more nutrition that honey can provide. They need micronutrients that’d normally be present in wine grapes, and they’ll work very slowly without them. Traditionally mead was a very slow ferment, but with a bit of nutrition, the yeasts work a lot more efficiently.
The recipe below is only a slight adaptation of the recipe from Artisanal Small Batch Brewing, and I’ve given instructions for using either natural additives (raisins, etc) or winemaking chemicals for a cleaner finished flavor. As with all homemade mead, it’s best to allow the brew to bottle condition for a few months (or a few years) before enjoying.
If you’ve never made mead before, check out this primer on making small-batch wine and mead before you get started.
- Heat 3/4 gallon water in a stockpot to near boiling and remove from heat. Add sliced lemon, brewed black tea, and honey.
- Stir to dissolve the honey.
- lemon balm leaves.
- Add the lemon balm leaves and allow to infuse for 15 minutes, then strain the herbs and lemon.
- Pour the strained mixture into a 1 gallon carboy using a funnel.
- Add cool water to top off the brew, filling to the neck of the fermenter.
- When the mead is at room temperature, add the yeast.
- Cap with a bung and airlock and allow the mixture to ferment for 1-2 months.
- Siphon the mead into a clean carboy, leaving any sediment behind. Re-cap with a bung and airlock and allow the mixture to ferment for another 1-2 months.
- Bottle using wine bottles and corks, and allow the herbal mead to bottle condition for at least 1 month (preferably longer) before drinking.
The original recipe notes that this herbal mead is best made with fresh lemon balm, and that dried lemon balm makes the mead a bit too tannic and bitter.
More Mead Recipes
Looking for more easy mead recipes? Try any of these: