Cooking With Herbs

Recipes, thoughts, and hints for enjoying herbs in the kitchen



Welcome to Spring

Like everyone I know in Maine and elsewhere, I’m tired of cold winds and the seemingly endless snow.  As they fade away and warmer days approach, I realize it’s time to think seriously about my garden.  Among the first plants to greet me every spring are clusters of sweet woodruff with its spiraling whorls of deep green leaves topped with bright white flowers.  They grow in a relatively protected shady spot under an upper deck that has been snow-free for a few weeks.  They may bloom just in time to play their part in the celebration of May Day, a festive tradition with roots in the Rhine Valley.  There, woodruff is traditionally gathered in woods and forests to flavor the Mai Wein Bowle.  Luckily I don’t need to go any further to pick a generous handful than just outside my office door, so if the flowers aren’t in bloom by May 1, I’ll just postpone my celebration until they’re ready.

As woodruff’s leaves wilt and dry, the enticing odor of coumarin (a mix of new-mown hay and vanilla) develops.  It is this flavor that enhances May Wine and that wine experts look for in certain fine white wines (and that makes it such a favorite for sachets).  Traditionally a Rhine Riesling is used as the base of May wine, but any light white wine could be substituted.  In America, brandy and/or champagne are sometimes added to make a punch.  Serve this refreshing and festive drink at any informal gathering, pouring it from a pitcher or ladling it from a punch bowl.  Float a few johnny-jump-up blossoms in the glass for decoration or add a strawberry or two (my preference)  for color and a subtle taste.


1 small bunch sweet woodruff (2-3 sprays)

3 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 bottle of white wine, preferably Rhine wine or

   another light wine

Ice cubes

Johnny-jump-ups or strawberries, optional

Place the woodruff in a non-reactive container with a tight-fitting cover.  Sprinkle with the sugar.  Add 1 cup of the wine, cover, and let steep for several hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, filter the wine into a punch bowl or pitcher.  Add the remaining wine and the ice cubes.  To serve, place a strawberry in each glass before pouring or sprinkle each serving with a few johnny-jump-ups if desired.



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© photos Chris Mead, text Emelie Tolley



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