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The Traditions of Mead (Honey Wine)

What Is Mead (Irish Honey Wine)?

Traditionally, when people speak of Irish Wine, they are referring to a unique drink made from honey called Meade. This wine was said to have been first made in secret by Irish Monks. Its origins, however, are lost in pre-history with the earliest archeological evidence dating back to 7000 BC. It was used in feasts and celebrations across Europe and Asia and still exists today.

Mead or Meade, often called honey wine, is an alcoholic beverage brewed from honey, yeast, and water. Mead can be made in a range of styles, mixing with fruit, herbs, hops, or spices sometimes added. Because mead can be made in a wide range of ways, the alcohol content can range from low to high. Mead is an incredibly varied drink that is available from dry to sweet and can take on a wide range of flavors.

The flavors can vary depending on what type of honey is used, how the mead is treated, and what additional ingredients (if any) are added. Aromas and flavors will reflect the honey's origins (such as clover, wildflower, etc.) and any added flavorings. This often includes floral, honey, and sometimes spicy notes.

There are many variations and types of mead that have grown in popularity over the years. Below are some of the more common types:

  • Braggot: Sometimes considered more a beer than a mead, braggot is either a mix of the two drinks or mead brewed with hops and malt.

  • Melomel: Flavored with fruit or fruit juice

  • Cyser: Mead made using apples

  • Metheglin: Spiced, herbal mead, metheglin is historically used for medicinal purposes.

  • Acerglyn: A mead-like beverage made using maple syrup in place of honey.

History of Mead (Honey Wine) In Celtic/Druid Irish Tradition and Festivals

In Celtic cultures, mead was famously popular among highlanders and believed to enhance virility and fertility with aphrodisiac qualities. For one month after a marriage, the bride and groom would drink this honey wine every night as it was meant to help their virility and improve their chances of conceiving. This tradition spanned all across Europe in medieval times. As a result, mead quickly found its way into Irish wedding ceremonies. The term “honeymoon” is believed to have stemmed from the Irish tradition of newlyweds drinking honey wine every day for one full moon after their weddings. Today, some Irish weddings still include a traditional mead toast.

This sweet tasting fermented honey drink was especially loved by the ancient Irish, who shared fireside stories about rivers of mead in mystical lands over the edge of the ocean's horizon. Mead is best known as the ancient drink of Ireland, where it was relished by the High Kings of Tara, and ever after down through medieval times, to today. Mead is considered a creative alternative to more traditional wines and compliments all meals and celebrations.

For all things Irish, Old World, and New Age, mead (or meade) is a cutting-edge honey wine to serve at parties, holidays, and informal gatherings. Actually, mead has been an "in" drink for a very long time, as in over 2000 years. There are many artful ways to serve mead. In Ireland, a traditional way to serve mead is hot, in earthen mugs. This hearkens back to the belief in its serving in the old times, at medieval tables to banish the damp and chill of a rainy climate.

The traditional way that people would drink mead with both hands at feasts was by the use of the four-handled cup, the mether, or friendship cup. Having four handles made it easier to pass around, so many people could have a drink of the same cup, but it was important to pass it sunwards to the right, for if you passed it leftwards bad luck would befall the house.

Honey and mead were so important to the ancient Celts, that it was even a large part of the Afterlife. The Celtic Other Lands (Avalon, Tir na nOg, etc.) was considered to have rivers of mead running through the bountiful realms. One of the latter chiefs of the Irish gods, Manannan mac Lir, ruled over a realm whose rivers poured forth a stream of honey and mead.

Even before you reach the afterlife, their importance in spiritual rituals and society is mirrored by alternate names for the great Hall of Tara: Tech Mid Chuarda which is Mead Circling House and is said to be the place where five ancient roads meet at the Hill of Tara (Temair in gaeilge), and are said to link all the provinces of Ireland together. Built between the 400s and 700s CE, it has been a place of great significance in Irish culture and was the dwelling for the gods and entrance to the other worlds, a place known to be the seat of the high kings of Ireland and it could seat hundreds and was known for its copious use of mead in celebrations and daily life. What would you expect, when one of the better known styles of mead, braggot, takes its name from an old Celtic word, bracis, from 'brag' (malt) and 'got' (honeycomb), using etymologies out of Wales and Cornwall.

So Why Use Honey?

In Ireland, honey was vast and abundantly available at the time. Ireland having vast meadows of wildflowers, forests, and open landscapes; honeybees were abundant making honey the largest readily available sweetener. Hops were not available at the time and grapes were hard to grow in the Irish climate, so they used honey to sweeten and make their wine and beer.

Honey, being so abundantly available, had many non-mead uses and benefits to daily Irish life: a mix of milk and honey to be drunk; lard and honey mixed and used as a condiment; honey by itself at the table to dip meat, fish or bread into; used for basting (such as was done for the legendary Ailill and Maive of Connaught, who basted their salmon in honey. Until the Normans brought sugared sweetmeats (and much miser) in the 12th century, honey was the only sweet known on the island.

Most honey, though, was still used for the making of mead and carries a long tradition throughout Irish mythology, like Hazelnut mead. This mead was infused with hazelnuts, thought to be the nut that gives wisdom. This hazelnut mead was so delicious that one of Fionnuala’s, (one of the daughters of Lir of the Tuatha Dé Danann in Irish Myth turned into a swan), greatest sorrows, is her memory of this hazelnut mead.

There are long histories of stories of mead throughout Irish culture and mythology. King Guairc the Hospitable discusses it being one of the few joys of the hermit life.

Fionn mac Cumhaill was served mead in a silver cup. St. Findian lived for six days of the week on bread and butter but allowed himself mead and salmon on Sundays. St. Brigid turned vats of water into mead, imitating Jesus’ miracle of water into wine, but with an even more satisfying result. There's no doubt that Mead has played a huge beneficial and spiritual impact in the Celtic and Druid cultural traditions that it is thought to be the Drink of the Gods! And why shouldn't it be when it has the medicinal benefits of honey, one of the best known delicious delights that brings joy, bliss, and sweetness whenever it is consumed.

Brief Herbal Benefits of Honey and Mead

Honey & Mead Can Help Aid Against Illness

In ancient times, mead was considered as a powerful and effective medicine. It was associated with strength, health and long life. Mead is full of infection-fighting bacteria’s which possess special weapons that target, fight, and eliminate deadly pathogens. The bacteria produced have also been capable of eliminating notorious drug-resistant infections. They have been able to heal wounds and other infections from horses and humans at large. Honey has been long known for it's antibacterial properties and propolis fighting compounds. Honey is a healthier alternative to sugar providing the body with antioxidants and helping to regulate blood sugar and metabolism instead of increasing glycemic levels. It also helps in reducing stress and hyperglycemia and promotes good digestion. Mead and it's honey constituents was a great benefit to ancient Irish cultures to aid with overall health as a medicinal herbal tonic and one we can continue to use today. Romans associated mead with longer life, and they believed it possessed unique healing properties. "Let food be thy medicine, and Medicine be thy Food" as the great philosopher Hippocrates use to say.

Helps to Fight Antibiotic-Resistant Pathogens

The antibacterial substance in mead and honey has successfully treated wounds which are resistant to any treatment as a vulnerary.

Preventing acid reflux

Honey can reduce the upward flow of stomach acid and undigested food by lining the esophagus and stomach. This can help to reduce the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause heartburn, acid reflux and inflammation.

Reducing diarrhea

Honey helps to decrease the severity and duration of diarrhea. Honey also promotes increased potassium and water intake, which is particularly helpful when experiencing diarrhea. It also has the ability to block the actions of pathogens that commonly cause diarrhea.

Improves Immunity

Its probiotic content can have a positive impact on your immunity and gut health.

Relieving cold and cough symptoms

Its strong antioxidant and antimicrobial properties also help to fight cold and cough symptoms.

No Sugar Content and Added Sulfites

Mead is made by fermenting honey. There are many benefits of using mead and honey for our health. Unlike other types of wine produced today, mead has honey and water as the main ingredients. The honey contains both the yeast and sugars needed for fermentation in other types of wine. This makes mead safe as it doesn’t require the addition of white sugar and yeast for fermentation which may reduce the overall health benefits of the drink. For example, white sugars trigger the insulin response more than honey which can result in health problems. Insulin is the hormone that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates and if produced in large amounts they can be harmful. Water is also an important element for our bodies and makes up 60% of our total body mass.

Mead is remarkably versatile. It is traditionally flavored with a wide variety of herbs, spices, flavors, and other different types of beneficial substances. For example, melomel contains natural fruit juices like raspberries and blackberries which contain nutritious components and antioxidants significant to the body to fight against free radicals. When mead is combined with natural herbal Ingredients it provides a more healthful alternative to regular beer and wine and becomes a herbal tonic that can help support overall health rather than deplete it.

So Why Honey Wine?

Overall, Mead has been one of the most healthy, safe, and delicious beverages used for centuries all over the world for different celebrations, so why not give it a lasting try, honor our bees, and celebrate in the ancient Irish tradition for this St. Patrick's Day.

All though Mead has been a huge cultural aspect to Celtic and Irish traditions as well as other parts of the world, it has started to become increasing rare and expensive. This is mainly due to the increasingly devastating decline in honeybees all over the world from the toxic use of pesticides in commercial and monocrop farming that is killing our beneficial pollinators, polluting our soils and rivers, and poisoning our food. Without our beneficial pollinators, are future food production will decrease as this is how many of our fruits and vegetables are produced by the pollination done by these beneficial insects. If there are no pollinators left, what will we be left with? What will our future generations be left with? A world left without the magic and transformation of plants from flower to fruit, the beautiful transformation of caterpillar into butterfly, and the wisdom of the Queen bee and the dance of the honeybee, that leads to non-organic, potentially toxic food for us and the destruction of balanced ecosystems. So, let's stand up to make a change and spread the word of the benefits of saving these most precious creatures that hold the fate of our food in their work and their lives. We call you all to take action in helping us spread the word of the importance of our pollinators, help keep them alive and start a hive in your backyard, spread the word of the benefits of honey and bees, help support organic and sustainable agricultural practices, and let's leave some magic and sweetness for the future generations to enjoy. We would love to hear your feedback and any comments you have on how you are helping support the pollinator crisis, or if you tried our mead recipe or have your own to share, how you liked it or what flavors you came up with to share with others.

Want to try creating your own traditional Irish drink Meade, check out our recipe here.

Green Blessings and Aloha from,

The Green Witches

'Ohana Green Witches

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