Bach flower remedy plants…and wine.

Over the summer I visited a vineyard in Kent and it got me thinking about how the Bach remedy plants contribute to wine-making.  Obviously, grapes come from vine, but there are a surprising number of other remedy plants that are also vital to the process.

Grape vine, fruit and wine

Wine, made from the fruit of the vine (Vitis vinifera); image from pixabay.com

Wine-making goes back at least 6,000 years – the first wine may have been a happy accident.  Grapes provide sugar and juice, and fungus on the skins can kick-start fermentation, so perhaps someone eating a partially fermented grape had a light-bulb moment and the rest is history!  Traditionally, grapes were crushed by trampling with the feet, so the process may have benefitted from the presence of fungi on the feet.

Today we know that grape skins and seeds contain compounds which are good for heart health and fight the spread of cancer, like resveratrol.  As red wine is made by fermenting grapes with their skins on, it has more potential benefit than white. But resveratrol is inactivated in the gut and liver so, rather than gulping the wine, sipping it slowly will help maximise absorption.  Sipping allows resveratrol to pass through the mucous membranes in the mouth and can increase absorption into the bloodstream 100-fold.

But what other plants are used in a vineyard?  You might also see roses – sometimes planted at the end of each row of vines and sometimes in small groups distributed throughout the vineyard.  It turns out that roses are susceptible to the same diseases as vines, particularly the fungal infection mildew.  The roses act ‘like a canary’, providing an early warning to winemakers who can then treat the vines to prevent them becoming infected.[1]

Oak barrels; image from pixabay.com

Traditionally elm trees were grown in vineyards to shade the vines and provide support for them to climb on.  The first English elm (Ulmus procera) in the UK is believed to have been brought by the Romans for this purpose.  Every English elm in Britain is thought to be a clone of this tree, which has had disastrous consequences.  The lack of genetic variation has made the species almost powerless to resist Dutch elm disease – current estimates suggest over 25 million trees (of a population of 30 million) have been affected in the major outbreak beginning in the 1960s.

Oak wood barrels are used during the fermentation and ageing stages of winemaking to affect the colour, flavour and texture of the wine, the effects depending on the species used and where it was grown.  In Europe, Quercus robur, the species used to make the Bach remedy, and Quercus petraea are commonly used.

Cork wine bottle closures, ‘corks’; image from pixabay.com

Finally, when the wine is ready to be bottled, another oak cousin (Quercus suber) might be used to provide corks.  Although corks have recently been widely replaced by plastic or aluminium closures, they are much more environmentally-friendly.  Their production releases 25 times less greenhouse gases than aluminium caps and 10 times less than plastic ones.

Chemical diagram of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, TCA, the main cause of corking

One issue with using corks can be ‘corking’ of the wine.  This is caused by a chemical compound called tetrachloroanisole (TCA).  It is produced by fungi acting on chlorophenols present in pesiticides and wood preservatives and makes the wine taste and smell unpleasant. But the good news is so-called cork taint can be easily removed at home.  Just pour the wine into a bowl with a ball of clingfilm (made of polyethylene (PE)…check it IS made of PE) and swirl around for 5-10 minutes.  The PE mops up the TCA and leaves the wine tasting as it should again.[2]

So next time, you’re sipping a glass of wine spare a thought for all the plants that have contributed!

Sources: Gwenda Kyd, (2018); The Plants of Dr Bach; ISBN 978-0-9928998-1-3

[1] Clémence Leberche, (27th July 2017); The Winalist; Why are roses planted in vineyards?

[2] Harold McGee, (13th January 2009); The New York Times; For a Tastier Wine, the Next Trick Involves …

Next time: Medieval medicinal plants