Thumbs don’t get any blacker than mine. Under my care, tulips, orchids and goldfish die with brutal equanimity. But very occasionally, when a porthole of inactivity beckons, I’ll go on a homey streak and decide to become an 18th-century farmwife for the day. So I decided to embark on spring’s perfect mission: to make gorse wine and nettle beer.

Gorse wine

Gorse, also known as furze, is a bush that grows in profusion in coastal areas of the British Isles. Most of the time it consists mainly of thorns the size of hypodermic needles, but when it blooms, it takes on the look of a massive, beribboned yellow porcupine.

Instructions: Making the wine requires 3.5 pints of flowers, freshly picked from betwixt the thorns. This is actually the most difficult, time-consuming and painful part of the whole ordeal, and gardening gloves and tweezers are highly recommended. Then, you boil the flowers up in a gallon of water for fifteen minutes, add a kilo of sugar, stir until dissolved, take off the heat, and add the juice and rind of two lemons and two oranges. When the mixture reaches “blood heat,” add yeast and put it to rest for a couple of days.

Nettle beer

Nettles are spring’s other painful child. They grow all over the world, within elbow or shin reach of any mildly outdoorsy kid, and if their sting is subtler than gorse’s, it burns on for much longer. However, brief contact with boiling water or butter evaporates the stinger, and the leaves can be blanched, sautéed, added to soup—or turned into beer.

Instructions: Place 100 nettle stalks (with leaves) to boil in 2 ½ gallons of water for 15 minutes, then strain. At this point, panic because the liquid looks nearly black, and the pictures in Roger Phillips’ Wild Food book, where the recipe comes from, show nettle beer looking like lemonade. Add 3 pounds of sugar and 2 ounces of cream of tartar, stir and dissolve, and take off the heat. Amazingly, the liquid will have turned a clear ruby red. That’s not the color of lemonade either. When the mixture has gone tepid, add 15 grams of yeast (pre-dissolved in a little warm water) and leave in a warm corner.

In a few days, providing it hasn’t blown up or melted the bucket, I’ll decant the gorse pre-wine into a demi-john fitted with a fermentation airlock, and bottle the nettle beer. The nettle beer will be ready right away, and the gorse wine, once fermentation’s ended, will get bottled and drunk once it’s gone clear.

Hopefully by that time, the cuts colonizing my hands will have healed. Happy brewing.

Story by Nathalie Jordi. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2008