Creativity through Antiquity

Cordials are very hard to do in this modern day due to the restrictions of distillation.  In the United States, both Alcohol and Tobacco are taxed but you can grow your own Tobacco without fear of the government shutting you down.  Not so much with alcohol.  Distillation (or moonshining) is a felony .  If you have 10,000 dollars and 5 years to spend in prison than I highly recommend you try distilling without a license.   Is it likely you’ll go to prison?   It’s hard to say.   The individuals I’ve spoken to about it claim that the small amount of home distillation you do wouldn’t be enough to pay one ATF Officers salary for a week.  They want the big producers who are flooding the market with illegal whiskey and vodka.   Be that as it may, I still caution you do not distill alcohol.

Back in 1600’s Hugh Platt and Sir Kenhelm Digby had no such laws to worry about.  They distilled in simple pot stills to produce both essential oils and  alcohols with delicious flavors.  Cordials were considered medicine in their time so to cure a raspy cough or when one felt under the weather, a cordial was prescribed to alleviate the illness.  It was only later that cordials became pleasurable accompaniments to drink.

This put me in a rather strange juxtaposition.  On the one hand, we had these wonderful recipes from medieval times which I could not produce due to law  and on the other hand, I have a cordial category specified by the East Kingdom Brewer’s Guilde which tends to run low scores due to the fact that several categories are compromised.  If we did the standard Dibgy recipe it devolves into  take fruit, freeze it and add vodka.  Shake 2 times in 2 weeks and then sweeten with sugar syrup until just below perfect.  Cap and let sit for atleast one week.  This recipe never scores high.  You can only hope that by changing the original fruit and replacing it with another documentable fruit, that one of the judges may give you extra points for creativity.

I was in the shower when inspiration struck.  My wife has a bar of green tea soap which is fragrant but with the hot water in the shower becomes downright overpowering.  I was thinking about my next EK Panel entry when I get hit with the green tea soap smell and something clicked in my brain.  If I couldn’t get credit for full distillation, maybe I could get credit for half.

It was at this point the shampoo ran down into my eyes and I spent the next 15 min rinsing away the pain.  But I digress…….
I immediately started combing through my books to see if I could find two plausible recipes that would meet my needs.  I found 2 recipes which were within 30 years of each other and my project began:

Lemonbalm Mint Cordial

as taken from Delights for Ladies by Hugh Platt

Liberties as a Cordial combined with Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened

Cordial by Pan Kythe Szubielka


Delights for Ladies:

A Speedy distillation of Rosewater  Stampe the leaves, and first distill the juice being expressed and after distil the leaves, and so you shall dispatch more with one Still than others doe with three or foure stils.  And this water is every way as medicinable as the other, serving in all sirups, decoctions, &c. sufficiently, but not altogether so pleasing in smell. (1)

Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened:


If you will make a Cordial Liquor of Sack with Clove-gilly-flowers, you must do thus. Prepare your Gilly-flowers, as is said before, and put them into great double glass-bottles, that hold two gallons a piece, or more; and put to every gallon of Sack, a good half pound of the wiped and cut flowers, putting in the flowers first, and then the Sack upon them. Stop the glasses exceeding close, and set them in a temperate Cellar. Let them stand so, till you see that the Sack hath drawn out all the principal tincture from them, and that the flowers begin to look palish; (with an eye of pale, or faint in Colour) Then pour the Sack from them, and throw away the exhausted flowers, or distil a spirit from them; For if you let them remain longer in the Sack, they will give an earthy tast to them. You may then put the tincted Sack into fit bottles for your use, stopping them very close. But if the season of the flowers be not yet past, your Sack will be better, if you put it upon new flowers, which I conceive will not be the worse, but peradventure the better, if they be a little dried in the shade. If you drink a Glass or two of this sack at a meal, you will find it a great Cordial. (2)


Hugh Platt

A quick distillation of rosewater: Pound the rose petals to be bruised so that the roses will express the moisture inside. Collect the moisture and then soak the leaves in water to distill equally. This water is equally useable for medicine and/or liquors (such as cordials).

Kenhelm Digby

Clean and prepare your cloves and put them into a 2 gallon glass container you should have 1/2 lb of flowers for each gallon of sack wine. Pour the wine in over the flowers and seal the jar. Put the jar in your cellar (or other cool dark place) and let it sit until the wine extracts the color from the flowers. Remove the spent flowers and pour off the sack wine. enjoy

***Special Note:

The object of this cordial is a plausible alternative method that is both period and feasible for creating cordials using distillation while still adhering to the current restrictions of the law. I am attempting to validate the techniques used in period and combing the finished products as if they were first and second steps of the same end result liquor. Delights for Ladies was published in 1602 in London while Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened was published in 1669 based on several earlier versions of the same recipes under the name “The Queen’s Closet Opened, Incomparable Secrets which were presented unto the Queen by the most Experienced Persons of the Times, many wherof were had in Esteem when she pleased to descend to Private Recreation” 1655 for Henrietta Maria, whom Digby was her Chancellor. (4)


  • 1 Glass Alembic
  • 1 Glass bottle
  • 1 Steel Pot


  • 3 C Lemonbalm (3)
  • 1 C Mint (Spearmint) (4)
  • 3 T Sugar
  • 2 oz of Neutral Spirts (Vodka)


The Lemonbalm and Mint were harvested from my own garden this year and hung upside down to dry for 2 months.

WP_001541 WP_001543 WP_001544 WP_001547

At the end of this period, the leaves and stems were seperated and the stems discarded. The leaves were crumbled into small pieces and soaked in a water solution for 48 hrs which allowed the leaves to express the concentrated oils into the water.


 WP_001548 WP_001551 WP_001552


This is essentially a tea.  We then strain the dead vegetation from the wash and put the wash into this baby:

The Alembic is the top part of this glass still.  It captures the oils and they run down the side where they collect in the gutter and then pool out through the tube into another glass

The Alembic is the top part of this glass still. It captures the oils and they run down the side where they collect in the gutter and then pool out through the tube into another glass

48 hrs later, the "tea" or "wash"  is ready to be separated.

48 hrs later, the “tea” or “wash” is ready to be separated.

The strained mints are then put into the glass beaker

The strained mints are then put into the glass beaker

Once the wash is in the beaker we put the alembic on top but we want to seal the glass so that none of the essential oils escape.  For this it’s recommended that rye flour be used but I used a combination of regular flour with water and then dip a muslin sheet  into it.  This is then wrapped around the neck and the alembic is put on top creating a seal.

WP_001564 WP_001565 WP_001566

The water bath that the alembic is put into goes almost up to the muslin sleeve.  There is a trivet in the bottom that the beaker sits on. The wash was then brought to the boiling point. From which over the next several hours, the oils of the mints were extruded from the wash and decanted into a holding container.


Condensation occurs when the vaporized oils touch the glass and then drip into the channel which leads to the holding container


Collection happens over the next several hours. A slight bit of color is extruded as well.

After a sufficient amount of the oils are extracted, they are combined with a legally distilled spirit and tasted.  If the flavor is overpowering, sugar and more water can be added.  In this case, the flavoring was very delicate so I wanted to make sure it came out during judging.  I ended up adding the aqua vitae and then mixing about 2 tsp of sugar into the mix and tasting.  When it was slightly below perfect I bottled the mix and let it set for 2 weeks.

WP_001574 WP_001575

I actually entered 2 cordials and received scores of 78 (Quince w Lime)  and 79 (Lemonbalm w mint).  Both were excellent scores although I thought the Lemonbalm would have outpaced the Quince by much more.


It was agreed all around that the dried leaves probably weren’t the best choice and we wanted to see what differences the fresh bruised leaves would have in comparison.

Suffice it to say by following close procedure, using period equipment, the goal of creating an essential oil which can then be tranferred into a neutral spirit and sweetened following 2 recipes both in period and possibly able to be on the same shelf of someone’s kitchen at end of period, was achieved. I believe this is a more period technique for creating cordials although being my first attempts I would go back and consider using fresh herbs instead of dried to see if the flavoring was more robust in comparison.


  1. Delights for Ladies by Hugh Platt, 1603
  2. Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened 1669
  3. Lemon balm, is mentioned in Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened although a direct correlation is not listed under the name Lemon Balm.  Instead it is explained with the alternate name of Balm
  4. Spearmint or Minth is mentioned in Sir Kenhelm Digby’s Closet Opened  “The Queen’s ordinary Bouillon de santé in a morning was thus. A Hen, a handful of Parsley, a sprig of Thyme, three of Spear-minth, a little balm, half a great Onion, a little Pepper and Salt, and a Clove,”

    Kenelm Digby. The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened (Kindle Locations 1994-1996).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s