What Exactly Is Carmelite Water? (Hint: It Has Wine in It)

On HerbMentor.com we’ve been studying lemon balm the last two months. As a member of the mint family, this potent little plant is tasty as well as effective. It’s used for lifting the spirits, for viral infections and even for fevers!

One aspect of studying plants that I adore is the rich history of the interactions between plants and people. I love to try out old recipes, knowing variations of these recipes were made by countless others before me, even hundreds or thousands of years before I was born.

So since we were studying lemon balm, I went searching for an old recipe, something I’d never tried with lemon balm before.

I didn’t have to search long before I came across “Carmelite water.”

Carmelite water refers to a myriad of recipes that infuse lemon balm along with a couple of other plants in wine or alcohol.

This mixture was used externally as an ‘eau de toilette’ or perfume back before bathing was cool. It was also used internally for digestive complaints and neuralgic complaints (headache, pains etc).

I’ve read that the original recipe was created by Carmelite monks near Paris in 1611. Since then there have been countless variations.

Herbalist Maude Grieve writes the following in her book A Modern Herbal (published 1931).

Formerly a spirit of Balm, combined with lemon-peel, nutmeg and angelica root, enjoyed a great reputation under the name of Carmelite water, being deemed highly useful against nervous headache and neuralgic affections.

She continues on to say…

Balm steeped in wine we are told again, ‘comforts the heart and driveth away melancholy and sadness.’

So taking a few hints from Maude Grieve, I fashioned my own recipe.

Carmelite Water

What you’ll need…

  • 1 bottle of white wine
  • 1 cup lemon balm
  • 1/2 cup Angelica
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Begin by assembling the ingredients…

1 cup of lemon balm. I used it dried because that is all I had on hand. I highly recommend using it fresh if you are able.

1/2 cup of Angelica. This is a wonderfully warming plant for promoting digestion.

The zest of 1 lemon. I have a special tool for removing the zest; a cheese grater will also work.

1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. You can buy special graters for this as well; again, a cheese grater will work fine. Freshly ground nutmeg is heavenly and I highly recommend using it. The fresher the better when it comes to nutmeg.

Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, you simply need to put them in a jar and then fill the jar with the bottle of white wine. Then stir or shake well to mix everything together.

Since this was my first time making this, I kept tasting it at regular intervals to see how long it needed to macerate. After five hours it tasted potent, but not overly medicinal.

When you decide your brew is done, strain off the herbs and enjoy! This is wonderful when drank chilled on a hot summer day.

Not a wine drinker?

There are lots of options to modify this Carmelite water recipe to work for you.

  • This could be used as cooking wine.
  • The ingredients could be infused in vodka and then used as a perfume. I’d increase the nutmeg and add some cinnamon and cloves.
  • Or you could simply try it as a tea.

Happy Summer!

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