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
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!
Have you ever made wassail before? What’s your favorite way to make it? Leave a comment and let me know!