May Wine

I have a particularly fond childhood memory of dancing around a Maypole wearing festive (alpine? Elizabethan?) dress at the hippie nursery school I attended in Vermont, and consequently I always celebrate May Day. I do not erect a Maypole in my backyard, but I been known to don the occasional flower wreath or sprig in my hair (especially if I don’t have to go anywhere) and I usually make May Wine, the traditional German spring spirit. May Wine (Maiwein) is simply sweet white wine infused with sweet woodruff (galium odoratum, or Waldmeister, “master of the woods”, in German), and there are lots of variations, both from the past and in the present. You can simply take a few sprigs of the herb, tie them together, and drop them in a bottle of Moselle to infuse for the afternoon in the refrigerator if you like, or you can make a May Punch, by adding sparkling water or wine and fruit. Have your own Happy Hour, or invite your neighbors and drink to the retreat of winter and the onset of spring, a universal sentiment but one that seems very apt this particular year!

Health to all Goodfellows British Library

Maiwein pc

A Health to all Good-Fellowes (c. 1615-40), British Library; German May Day postcard, c. 1900.

My “recipe” for May Wine is always evolving. Generally I take one bottle of Moselle and another of sparkling wine (Proseco, Cava, or if you can find it, German Sekt) and pour them into a glass pitcher to which I add the sweet woodruff (you must snip it before it flowers) and a few splashes of Italian sparkling lemon soda. I leave this concoction for most of the day, and then strain it and pour it into glasses filled with a few strawberries or raspberries. My sweet woodruff is definitely not ready for prime time this year (it is barely out of the ground), so I bought several potted plants, for the first time ever: even if my garden is not ready for May Day, I am.

Sweet Woodruff Dietrich 1834


Sweet Woodruff Bluestone Perennials

Sweet Woodruff (Galium Odoratum, Asperula Odorata, the “master of the woods”,  from Dietrich, A.G., Flora regni borussici (1833-1844); Kerner von Marilaun, A.J., Hansen, A., Pflanzenleben: Erster Band: Der Bau und die Eigenschaften der Pflanzen (1887-1891), and Bluestone Perennials.

7 responses to “May Wine

  • Bears, Goats, and Strawberries

    Reblogged this on bears goats and strawberries and commented:
    Me too. Happy mayday.

  • Debbie Tegarden

    And how far is it to Marymount’s maypole?
    Thanks so much for another exquisite post!
    Debbie Tegarden

  • Debbie Tegarden

    Sigh—Friday afternoon haste—Merry Mount. Although Hawthorne’s distinction is blurred. Still, thanks!

    From: Debbie Tegarden
    Sent: Friday, May 01, 2015 4:32 PM
    To: ‘streetsofsalem’
    Subject: RE: [New post] May Wine

    And how far is it to Marymount’s maypole?
    Thanks so much for another exquisite post!
    Debbie Tegarden

  • Laura

    I really think we adults would benefit from some dancing around maypoles… time to learn how to play again!

    But I’m so intrigued by all the different traditions around May 1.

    I remember, growing up in a small town in Maine, that May 1 you were supposed to bring “May baskets” to school for your favorite friends. Basically you took paper cups or whatever and decorated them with crepe paper and cut out flowers in spring colors and filled them with candy.

    However, I remember even earlier growing up in Hawaii where my family lived for 5 or so years in the 1960s, that May 1 was Lei Day and kids made flower lei’s and gave those to their favorite friends at school!

    Something about May 1… 🙂

  • Dawn

    It’s so sweet to read about all of the May Day traditions! What a joyous celebration of my favorite month of the year! I would love to make May Wine for May 1st next year. Many thanks, Donna! ♡

  • Gai Haines

    Unfortunately not a tradition followed in Australia, but a celebration that involves wine should be adopted enthusiastically in my view

  • daseger

    Happy May Day to all, near and far. Debbie—I don’t believe Merry Mount is very far away; Laura–I’m from Maine too and definitely remember May Baskets. Everyone else, drink up!

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