May wine (Maiwein or Maibowle in German) is a German spring time tradition (especially on May Day), to celebrate the arrival of the sweet woodruff season. Sweet woodruff is known as “Waldmeister” in Germany, and is used as a flavouring for many popular drinks, sweets and desserts. You will see many bars and cafés making their own version of Maibowle and serving it as a special during a couple of weeks in early May. It can be made in different ways, but this is our favourite recipe which makes an easy celebratory spring time drink.
- 15-20 tips of Sweet woodruff
- A bottle of white wine. We use a dry German riesling for this, but any white wine will do.
- A bottle of sparkling wine. We use prosecco.
- A handful of strawberries
Here’s how you do it:
1. Forage for sweet woodruff
Sweet woodruff is in season from around early May until mid-June. It is mostly found in ancient woodlands, hedgerows and riverbanks, as a groundcover in shady areas with moist, slightly acidic soil. The leaves, rather than the flowers, are preferred for harvesting as they are more flavorful. To gather sweet woodruff, simply snip off the top few leaves and leave the base of the plant intact to continue growing. Follow foraging etiquette, and don’t take too much from one place. Always leave some for others and for further growth.
2. Dry the sweet woodruff
Sweet woodruff needs to be dried or wilted to intensify its flavor and fragrance. You can leave it out in the sun for a couple of days, or if you have a dehydrator (like we do!), use it to slightly but not completely dehydrate the sweet woodruff tips. You will notice a dramatic change in smell as it dries. This is because Sweet Woodruff contains a chemical compound known as coumarin, which has a naturally sweet aroma that is released when the herb dries. The enzymatic action that occurs during the drying process is what frees this fragrance from the plant material, resulting in a more intense aroma.
3. Infuse the white wine
Pour out a little of the wine from the bottle, and stuff in the wilted sweet woodruff. Make sure the woodruff is completely covered in wine. Let steep overnight (24 hours is ideal, but shorter or longer infusions work as well! Find your sweet spot!). After the infusion, strain the sweet woodruff out of the wine, and it’s ready to use in the punch!
4. Make the punch
Pour the sweet woodruff infused white wine into a large punch bowl. Add prosecco and sliced strawberries. You can also add a bit of sparkling water if you want, for a less alcoholic drink. Serve well chilled.