hist-brewing: Re: blue mead

Cindy M. Renfrow cindy at thousandeggs.com
Thu Jan 11 07:42:33 PST 2001

>Lady Nostas'ia Stepanova wrote:
>Greetings to the list from a lurker.

>When I saw the term "alkanet," I thought I remembered a warning about it in
>Cindy Renfrow's "Take A Thousand Eggs." It is a plant; however, according
>to the glossary (p. 228) in Vol. 1:


Hi!  That's the old edition.  The new edition says:

"Alkanet.  Alkanna tinctoria (Tausch.), or Anchusa tinctoria, Boraginaceae,
also called Orchanet, Spanish Bugloss, Enchusa,  Bugloss of Languedoc,
Alkanea, Orcanette or Orcanéte.
The root of Alkanet yields a potentially toxic red dye that was used in
medieval times as a red food coloring agent.  The dye is now used in
medicines, chemistry, and the leather industry.  Mrs. Grieve (v.1, p. 19)
says that it is "perfectly harmless" when used as a coloring or adulterant
in wine, and indeed the small amount consumed in such a diluted solution,
or in one of our recipes, should cause no harm.  (See color extraction note
and illustration, Vol. 2, p. 435.)
	Nevertheless, Alkanet is closely related to the poisonous Echium
vulgare L., or Vipers Bugloss, and may be confused for it, even in the old
herbals.  Indeed, packages of Alkanet come marked:  "toxic, not for
internal use."  The AMA Handbook cautions that toxicity data have not been
completed for all plants, and that one should assume the worst for closely
related plants.  Echium has this listing:  "The whole plant is poisonous.
Toxin:  Pyrrolizidine alkaloids.  Symptoms:  Toxicity is associated with
use of the plant in herbal teas for folk medicine.  The chronic consumption
of these teas may cause veno-occlusive disease of the liver (Budd-Chiari
syndrome) with hepatic vein thrombosis leading to cirrhosis.  The symptoms
are abdominal pain with ascites [accumulation of fluid in the peritoneum],
hepatomegaly and splenomegaly [enlargement of the liver & spleen], anorexia
with nausea, vomiting and diarrheaŠ" (AMA Handbook, pp. 76-77).   Why take
the risk?"  (From "Take a Thousand Eggs or More", 2nd Edition, copyright
1990, 1997 Cindy Renfrow.)

Alkanet will likely cause problems if used regularly.  That, however is
irrelevant, since the color is only fat-soluble, & I don't think our friend
wants to pour tinted lard into her mead.

Elise Fleming & I did the most recent Complete Anachronist on the topic of
period food coloring agents. To make a long story short, we didn't find
anything edible, easily obtainable, and of a permanent color that would
suit your purpose.

Indigo, woad, and turnsole were cloth dyes.  Snippets of the dyed cloth was
soaked in liquid to release the color, and the colored liquid was then
added to the dish or beverage. A modern equivalent would be soaking your
new Levi's in hot water, & then using the tinted water.

If I might make a suggestion, you could try making borage-flower mead with
borage honey.  Infuse the flowers in the liquid to release the color. If
the color isn't good enough when the mead is ready, you could put fresh
borage flowers in the cups just before service, & pour the mead over them.


Cindy Renfrow
cindy at thousandeggs.com
Author & Publisher of "Take a Thousand Eggs or More, A Collection of 15th
Century Recipes" and "A Sip Through Time, A Collection of Old Brewing

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