Elderberry Sparkle: A Beginner’s Guide to Lacto-Fermented Herbal Brews
I do a lot of brewing here. This is in part to compensate for the lack of refrigeration at the center but also just because I love the process of fermentation. I make homemade wines and ales of all kinds, but want to start here with a basic primer for Lacto-Fermented Herbal Brews because they’re easy, quick and you and your children can drink them to your heart’s content. The herbal sparkles are fizzy and tongue-tingly, and depending on the culture you use, they can also have a bit of a sour bite to them. Very yummy, and a great alternative to most commercial beverages out there.
- Make a quart of herbal infusion. Yarrow, Elderberry or Chamomile are all good starting points. Let it infuse for several hours then strain.
- Add a couple tablespoons of sugar or honey.
- Pour about 1/2-1 cup of whey into the bottom of a clean quart jar.
- Add infusion to jar until close to the neck of the jar.
- Add two or three slices of fresh ginger (optional, but helps with the fermenting process)
- Cover loosely (you can use a canning lid, just don’t screw it on all the way).
- Let sit for two-three days (depending on warm the spot was and what you’re fermenting).
- Drink up.
- Store remainder in a cool dark place, in an airtight jar once you’re sure the fermentation process is done (you can put a balloon around the jar mouth overnight, and if it inflates it’s still fermenting.
It really couldn’t be simpler or tastier. You can get your whey from plain yogurt (by separating the solids from the liquid, the liquid is your whey) although I prefer the whey from piima. In a couple days, your brew will be sparkly, fizzy and delicious. With yogurt whey based brews, they’ll easily last for more than a month with refrigeration, but will get progressively sourer. I’m not sure what happens with piima because I drink it too fast to find out. I like these brews as a quick ferment for instant gratification. If I want longer lasting brews, I make wine or ale.
In general the more sugar you add, the fizzier the drink and the longer it takes to ferment. With lacto-fermented brews I find you really don’t need that much to make a tasty, sparkly drink. There is some alcohol content happening here, but it’s very low
What herbal infusion you choose depends on your tast. Yarrow is bitter and pungent, providing a slightly mind altering edge while Elderberry is blood nourishing, tart and a beautiful shade of purple. You get all the benefits of a normal herbal infusion plus the extra benefits of fermentation and friendly bacteria for your belly. Who can complain?
As with most traditional foods, there’s lots of room for improvisation with these brews. Endless combinations of herbs, sweeteners and ways of fermenting await you. Be creative, and don’t forget to have fun.