I never know what to call this kind of beverage. A cordial? A soda? To some people, the word cordial means a liqueur, but this drink is alcohol-free. And the word soda brings up mental images of two-liter bottles of Coke (at least to me!), so that’s not right either. This is an effervescent, naturally fermented, non-alcoholic beverage that will knock your socks off. So I’m calling it Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic, and here’s how you make it.
Foragers have made flower sodas/cordials for years. Fermentation is achieved by natural yeasts, which either come from the flowers themselves, or from the air. Either way, this beverage is light and delicious, and very simple to make.
What You’ll Need to Make Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic
- 20 umbels of Queen Anne’s Lace flowers
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 cups water
- 1 lemon, washed and thinly sliced
What You’ll Do to Make Queen Anne’s Lace Tonic
Inspect your flowers and get rid of any insect hitchhikers. No need to rinse the blooms, in fact, you want to leave any naturally-occurring yeasts on the flowers. Snip the umbels just below the bloom and transfer the flowers to a large jar. Add the lemon slices and set the jar aside.
In a large pot, combine the sugar and water, and whisk to dissolve the sugar. With the sugar to water ratio specified above, you probably won’t have to heat the water to dissolve the sugar, but if you’re having trouble dissolving the sugar, feel free to warm the water. Just be sure to let it get back to room temp before moving onto the next step. Overly hot water may kill the yeasts before they can do their job.
Pour the sugar-water solution over the flowers and lemon slices and stir, using the handle of a wooden spoon (or some such instrument) to submerge the solids. Cover the top of the jar with a few layers of cheese cloth and fasten the cloth with a rubber band. Leave the jar on your kitchen counter.
Once a day, remove the cheese cloth and give the brew a stir. You’re looking for bubbles that indicate fermentation has begun. How soon this happens will depend on the temperature of your home and the amount of natural yeasts present. It may take two days, it may take more. Once fermentation begins, watch your jar carefully. I put mine on a cookie sheet to catch any overflow that occurs as a result of vigorous bubbling.
Start tasting your brew after five days and see if you like the flavor. I like it best after eight – ten days. Any earlier, and the flavor of the yeast overwhelms the flavor of the flowers. Like elderflower champagne, this is a light and summery drink, with just a hint of lemon. Speaking of which…many flower cordial recipes call for much more lemon than I use. While I appreciate the hint of acid that a single lemon brings to the party, I don’t want to overshadow the subtle flavor of the Queen Anne’s Lace flower. (If I wanted lemon soda, I’d make lemon soda.)
Once the flavor suits your taste, strain off the solids and bottle your brew. Now you have choices. If you want a still (non-fizzy) drink, you’re all set. Move your bottles to the fridge and drink up.
If you want a fizzy drink, don’t refrigerate your tonic. Keep the bottles in a cool, dark place for about a week, where the liquid will continue to ferment, producing carbon dioxide. This builds up pressure in the bottles, and forces the gas to dissolve into the liquid. The pressurized gas will be released as fizzy bubbles when the bottle is opened. Check each bottle every day to release some gas and relieve the pressure. (Otherwise, you risk explosions!) After a week, move the bottles to the refrigerator and enjoy.
This tonic has no preservatives, and should be drunk within a week or two. It’s delicious on its own, and I also have a few ideas for some very special summer cocktails, so stay tuned!
If you are fermenting this for a week or two… There is definately alcohol in there. Wild yeast or not… That’s how you make wine.
I’ve made a lot of wine in my day; it’s one of my favorites hobbies. There may indeed be a TINY amount of alcohol in this tonic, but the limited sugar in the brew, combined with the very short fermentation time (approximately 5-6 days, since it takes several days for the process to get started), means that the amount of alcohol is negligible. I’d estimate less than 1%. I suppose if you add a week of extra fermentation to create a fizzy tonic, you’d increase the alcohol content, but it would still be very low. There is no flavor of alcohol, as you’d find in a 2% hard cider or light beer.
queen beet says
That’s exactly what i was just thinking
Mary Jo Milazzo says
I just tasted my first glass of this and it’s fabulous! I would love to be able to have a taste of ‘summer’ on a frigid, Wisconsin, winter day. Can the still tonic be frozen? Thanks so much for sharing this recipe.
I don’t know! I’m experimenting with that now. I’ve canned some and frozen some and will test both in a week or so to see which (if either) works better. Please remind me to post the results (if I forget!).
Mary Jo says
How are your preserving methods going? I’m curious now because my 2nd batch is done and I’m wondering if freezing is a good method to store some so I can have some winter time treats.
I’ll thaw it tonight and get back to you soon!
I tasted the thawed QAL tonic and the flavor is still excellent. Yay! I miss the effervescence, but love that the flavor can be preserved for a winter treat. I say, go for it!
Mary Jo says
Will do. Thank you!
Mary Jo says
I thawed one of my jars of tonic during a snow storm yesterday. I mixed it with San Pellegrino water, 1 cup QAL tonic and 1/2cup San Pellegrino. It was fizzy and tasted just like i remembered in September. They compliment each other perfectly.
Good to know, thank you!
Mary Jo says
I’ve got a capped bottle fermenting in a dark cool cabinet for week 2 of the process to try the fizzy version. It’s the end of day 3 and I’ve got white, bubbly scum floating on the surface. Is this ok ?
Ok, so you’ve already strained off the solids and are in the 3rd day of letting the drink get fizzy, popping the top every day to let gas escape. Right?
I suggest the following: open the bottle and smell the liquid. If it smells moldy, dump it. If not, look closely at the bubbles. Perhaps it’s just the natural carbonation. If you see chunks of solids floating in there, re-strain the liquid and taste. If it tastes good, re-bottle it, and continue letting gas escape every day for the rest of the week. It may still taste yeast-y, because it’s still fermenting and the yeasts are working. But if it tastes moldy, dump it. And please let me know how this works out for you.
Mary Jo says
My tonic turned out to be OK. My cap wasn’t sealing very well. I ran the mix through cheesecloth just to check it out, put a new cap on. The batch was so tasty!! My friends have been more than happy to help me consume it. Thanks!!
I served some at an event last night and everyone loved it. In fact, now that you made me think of it, I’m going to have a glass right now!
You call this a tonic…..is there any health benefits to this at all?
Not that I know of. The word tonic means different things to different people. Where I grew up (in NH), tonic was our word for soda or pop. Just a fizzy beverage, no medicinal qualities.
I read that Queen Anne’s lace is highly antioxidant and is good for the liver
I’m all about the flavor! Honestly, I’m not an herbalist, which is why I don’t discuss the medicinal aspects of plants.
I’m on my third day of letting it sit on my counter and the flowers and lemons have mold on top. How do you avoid this happening?
If it’s bad mold instead of bubbling yeast, then my first guess is that the QAL flowers didn’t have much natural yeast in their pollen. That can happen if you harvest after a rainy day (rain washes the pollen/yeast away). What color is the mold? If you’re not sure if it’s mold or yeast doing it’s fermenting thing, you can post a photo and comment on my facebook page, and I’ll give you my best guess as to what’s going on. But post a comment here if you do that, because FB is funny about notifying me when people post things on my biz page. Probably because I don’t pay them!
I just bottled my brew after 9 days and it’s not in the cupboard to ferment. I find it already tastes quite acidic and tangy. My biggest problem was that so many fruit flies were attracted to it and now my kitchen is having a fly problem. Would you say it’s okay to do the initial fermentation outside in a shady spot??
I really hope my brew works!!
Hi Kasey, I think outdoors in the shade is probably fine, but watch the temperature. If you live someplace warm, fermentation may be so active that your vessel overflows. Or, if it’s REALLY hot the yeasts may die and fermentation may stop. Good luck!
Can the umbels be any age? What is the ideal umbel to use for this recipe?
The individual flowers of the umbel should be fresh and white, not showing any signs of age or browning. Nor should there be any green seeds present.