Ever since the first Christmas I can remember, I woke up to the warm smell of cinnamon, apple, cranberry, and orange simmering in the crock pot. It was a tradition that came from my grandparents (and perhaps their parents) of making the holiday drink called wassail.
What is Wassail?
The traditional wassail recipe is an ancient Anglo-Saxon drink made with apple cider, citrus of some form, and winter herbs. Historically it also contained hard alcohol. It’s delicious, and will warm you up on a cold winter day! Several years ago I found a way to incorporate herbs into the recipe for some added health benefits.
Some recipes call for brown sugar, but I find that the natural fruit is sweet enough on its own. There are several different versions with ingredients like orange juice, lemon juice, or apple juice. This blend opts for a blend of pineapple, cranberry, and apple cider instead.
You could add in some apple slices, allspice, or star anise if desired. Personally, I love this warm drink recipe just how it is!
The History of Wassail
The word wassail wasn’t known as just a delicious beverage though. It was used as a tiding or toast to good health. Its first known use as a salute in literature is in the 8th-century poem Beowulf. The old-time tradition of “wassailing” also evolved and was a gathering of friends. Over time wassailing came to involve caroling and Christmas parties too.
What is the Difference Between Mulled Wine and Wassail?
The recipes are fairly similar, but my wassail recipe doesn’t have wine in it. Some people will add brandy or hard cider to their wassail after it’s done simmering. Mulled wine has a lot of the same spices, but it doesn’t usually have the added juice that you’ll find in Wassail.
Making wassail has now become a family tradition with my own family (as well as making glühwein, a spiced wine punch). They say smell is closely tied to memory and the scent of this homemade wassail definitely brings back good memories for me, just as I hope it will for my children.
My recipe is a little different than some of the more traditional ones because it has a hearty dose of herbal tea. I use a blend of nutritive herbs, including raspberry leaf, dandelion, alfalfa, and nettle. These herbs are high in minerals and nutrients that are widely considered safe for both children and adults. Even during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I generally avoid all herbs in medicinal amounts during the first trimester of pregnancy though.
Herbal wassail is a delicious warming drink and it will make your house smell amazing too!
Herbal Wassail Recipe
For the Herbal Tea
- 4 cups water
- 2 TBSP red raspberry leaf
- 1 TBSP alfalfa
- 1 TBSP nettle
- 1 TBSP dandelion leaf
For the Wassail
- 3 oranges
- 20 whole cloves
- 8 cups apple cider
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- 2 cups cranberry juice
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- ½ tsp ground nutmeg
- ½ inch fresh ginger (sliced thinly)
Brew the Herbal Tea
- In a medium-sized saucepan or a tea kettle, bring 4 cups of water to a boil.
- Remove the water from the heat and add the red raspberry leaf, alfalfa, nettle, and dandelion leaf.
- Allow the herbs to steep for 10-20 minutes.
- Strain the tea and add it to a slow cooker, discarding the herbs.
Make the Wassail
- Peel the oranges and divide them into sections.
- Poke the cloves into the orange sections.
- Add the clove-studded orange sections to the slow cooker with the herbal tea.
- Add the cider, juices, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg, and ginger to the slow cooker.
- Stir and heat for at least one hour.
- Serve warm with a fresh orange slice and cinnamon stick.
How to Store and Reheat the Wassail Recipe
If you find yourself with some leftover herbal wassail, it can be stored in the fridge for several days. It also reheats well on the stovetop or in the slow cooker.
More Warming Drinks
Check out some of my other favorite hot drink recipes here. These are perfect for the winter season, Christmas, or to ring in the New Year!
- Hot apple cider
- Mulling spices and mulled cider
- Mulled wine
- Hot chocolate
Have you ever made wassail before? What’s your favorite way to make it? Leave a comment and let me know!
Discussion (6 Comments)
Greetings Katie, I am living in Germany and gluvine is actually spelled Glühwein with a capital G. Also I have done a lot of research on Celtic traditions and I found that Wassail was a drink commonly drunk at the time of Yule or Winter Solstice and it is an old English drink.
So you use sweetened cranberry juice, or the hardcore unsweetened
Thank you very much for this fun and interesting holiday drink. I love that you used cleansing herbs with it. I can always count on you to keep it delicious and super healthy!!
I grew up on Wassail! My sweet mama always made it. When she passed, I took over the Wassail tradition. I found your recipe a few years ago and my family loved it! It felt like mom was there with us. It’s been a few years now and my family has requested I make this delicious version of Wassail again for the holidays. Thank you so much!
Thank you so much for sharing this delicious recipe. It was a joy to make it and a joy to incorporate the wassail tradition into our new years eve spectacular family night. What a gift. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on this and the many other tidbits I have learned from you and haven’t taken the time to thank you for (til now). Peace, prosperity, and happiness be yours this year! Wassail!
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