Recipe: May Wine with Sweet Woodruff

by Seasonal Wisdom on April 30, 2012

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Celebrate the start to May with this old-fashioned recipe for May Wine, which features hints of the herb sweet woodruff and organic strawberries. This delicious drink has long been enjoyed on May Day and was one of many charming traditions celebrated in Germany on the first of May. Learn more about this historic drink, and enjoy this easy, old-fashioned recipe.

herb drink for May

Right around late-April and early-May, the ground cover sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) starts to bloom with delicate, star-shaped white flowers in shady spots. In Germany, the herb grows wild in forests, and is called “Waldmeister.”

Beloved for centuries, sweet woodruff is used to concoct May Wine (aka Maiwein) with a young Riesling wine (ideally from the Mosel region of Germany). This wine is often enjoyed on May Day, along with other German traditions such as dancing around giant May Poles decorated with ribbons and flowers.  These customs survive still in certain places, and I’ve had the good fortune to not only see a May Pole in Bavaria, but also drink a glass of chilled May Wine.

My friend Victoria Williams of Our Life In Idaho has sweet woodruff growing in her garden.  She offered to help me make this pitcher of May Wine at her home. You may remember her delicious Strawberry Semifreddo with Edible Pansies. That frozen dessert would have been perfect to serve with this drink.

May Wine


  1. 1/2 cup of dried sweet woodruff leaves (Galium odoratum) – grown organically
  2. 1 bottle of Riesling wine
  3. 1 bottle of Sekt (German sparkling wine); or champagne
  4. 3/4 cups organic strawberries, chopped
  5. A pinch of fresh sweet woodruff flowers for garnish

Mosel Riesling is often used in May Wine

Step One: Infuse your dried sweet woodruff leaves in the Riesling wine for an hour or so.  You can use fresh herbs, but the flavor and aroma is more intense when dried. Some recipes recommend you infuse the herb overnight. But if you’re not familiar with the herb’s taste, you may want to start slow. We had enough flavor after only an hour when we infused our wine.

traditional wine for May Day in Germany

Step 2: After infusing the wine with this fresh-smelling herb for approximately an hour, strain the herbs from the drink. Then, gather up your ingredients and start mixing.

how to make May Wine

Step 3: Pour the infused wine into a glass pitcher. Then, add your sparking wine or champagne. Bubbles will form immediately, so pour slowly.

Delicious drink with herbs strawberries and edible flowers

Step 4: Add strawberries and a big pinch of sweet woodruff flowers to the top, and stir gently. The result is a lovely and refreshing drink suitable for a real celebration.

Often drank on May Day, first day of the month

We toasted ourselves for the wise decision to make May Wine this year, before eating those decadent-looking desserts you see behind our glasses. This drink also nicely complimented a delicious Smoked Salmon and Artichoke Quiche that Victoria whipped up for us too.

Hope you have a wonderful start to your May, and that we’ll see you back at Seasonal Wisdom soon!

A Few Notes:

  • Sugar: Some recipes called for adding sugar to May Wine. We say, “Skip the sugar!”
  • Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum): Use moderation when eating this herb. Although it is safe in this recipe’s quantities, large amounts of the plant can cause dizziness and vomiting. Learn more about sweet woodruff from The Herb Companion. Always know exactly how your herbs were grown. Do not eat plants that have been sprayed.
  • May Day Customs: The first day of May is “rich in customs, perhaps more so than any other day of the year,” writes The Oxford Book of Days.  Learn some fun and unusual May Day customs from Seasonal Wisdom, as well as  German traditions for this day.
Be sure to go check out Victoria’s Our Life In Idaho blog too!


D,Early May 14, 2013 at 8:36 am

I read about May wine in a gardening calendar I’ve had for years. Last year I planted the sweet woodruff, this year I looked up the May wine recipe and found your post. I’ve yet to try it but am trying the drying of the woodruff this week. I look forward to reading your posts. Thank you for the expanding ideas. Who knew? I am glad I wandered your way.

barbara May 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

Since getting May Wine on the market is difficult in our area, I’m giving your recipe a try. I’m sure to enjoy.

Seasonal Wisdom May 15, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Hi D, Early and Barbara: Thanks for your comments. Hope you enjoy the May Wine as a nice seasonal drink to celebrate this time of year. Look forward to seeing you again. All best, Teresa

Cynthia May 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm

I made sweet woodruff wine today and it is just delicious ! I used fresh sweet woodruff with the flowers, heated it 10 seconds in the microwave (this brings out the flavor better, in my experience ) and put it in a gallon jug of white wine. I let it sit 5 hours and yhen tasted it. It is just fabulous and tastes like spring! Try this!

Seasonal Wisdom May 18, 2013 at 5:43 pm

That sounds delicious, Cynthia. Thanks for sharing! Hope to see you again at Seasonal Wisdom. Teresa

Ken April 11, 2014 at 12:27 am

After the dried herb infusion when mixing the two drinks should I strain off the dried herbs out of the Reisling wine? Your drink looks clear and it’s not apparent in the recipe if this step is required.

Seasonal Wisdom April 18, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Hi Ken: Yes, you should strain the dried herbs from the wine before mixing the drinks. I’ve added the step to the blog post to make it clearer, and thanks for bringing it to my attention. Hope you enjoy the May Wine!

Jennie Alice Lillard April 29, 2014 at 6:16 pm

This is lovely, thank you so much for sharing. This looks like the perfect beverage to serve on a warm afternoon on the patio or out in the garden.

Seasonal Wisdom May 7, 2014 at 3:50 pm

Thanks so much, Jennie Alice. It has a refreshing taste that suits the season. Hope you enjoy it!

patricia May 7, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Sounds lovely! I used to have sweet woodruff in my garden but it ran amuck and I pulled it out – now that I want it where is it? I have to give this wine a try so I will find it somehow.

Seasonal Wisdom May 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Isn’t it always that way? Good luck finding some sweet woodruff, and enjoy this special seasonal drink soon. Thanks for visiting. Teresa

Kenneth Greenway May 8, 2014 at 12:34 am

I learnt of this drink from a Germany friend and discovered this recipe here when searching for it. In August 2014 you can see it go Nationwide in the UK when I made the drink for my dinner party to welcome my guests as a contestant in the world famous show, Come Dine with Me. I’ll post the airing date when I’m told. Exciting.

Seasonal Wisdom May 8, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Thanks for sharing, Kenneth. Please let me know the airing date. We’d love to see it.

Pam Rosado May 27, 2016 at 4:36 pm

I made this recipe and it is delicious. I’ve had. sweet Woodruff growing behind my house for years and didn’t know what to do with it until now. Thank you! What I need to know is how long can I keep the May Wine if refrigerated? Will it spoil?

Seasonal Wisdom February 5, 2017 at 3:38 pm

Pam, Your best bet is to drink the wine up within a few days. Be sure to keep it refrigerated. Enjoy!

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