Himalayan Balsam is the bad guy foragers have a secret crush on. This gorgeous recipe offers an ingenious way to use its blossoms before it does any more invading!
It might be an invasive species but Himalayan Balsam is a versatile edible that also lends some colourful exoticism to our riverbanks. An added appeal is that picking large quantities of this plant is also guilt free — the Environment Agency actively encourages its destruction, organising community “balsam bashing” trips. It’s only the bees that will miss it, but their time would be better spent pollinating our native plant species.
There are many options for using Himalayan Balsam flowers — making gins, syrups, jams and teas, amongst others — but this easy-to-make, salmon-pink fizz has an all-round appeal. You can call it a “fizz”, you could call it a “Champagne”, but we call it Himalayan Hooch because it reminds us of the alcoholic lemonade Hooch beloved of 90s teenagers — only more delicate and sophisticated.
This recipe will make approximately 4litres after wastage and should turn out at around 5% alcohol. Don’t worry about using 1litre bottles and thinking they are too large, it is quite moreish!
1 litre jug of Himalayan Balsam flowers
2 lemons, quartered
2 tbsp cider vinegar
4.5 litres/1gallon cold water
Half a sachet of champagne yeast
Fermenting bucket/food-grade plastic bucket with sealable lid
Sterilised plastic drinks bottles (4 x 1 litre)
Place the flowers in the fermenting bucket
Heat the water in a large pan until it just starts to boil, remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Add the quartered lemons and vinegar. Leave to cool so as not to destroy any natural yeasts when pouring over the flowers.
Pour the mixture over the flowers, add the ½ sachet of champagne yeast and seal the lid.
Leave in a room at an ambient temperature, out of direct sunlight, (ideally cool, to prevent mould, but not cold, or it will stop fermentation) for 4-6 days
Syphon into sterilised plastic drinks bottles (fizzy drink or mineral water bottles will work fine) leaving a few inches of air. It’s best not to use glass because of the risk of the bottles exploding if excess pressure builds up.
The bottles need to be checked regularly and be “burped” — briefly unscrewing the lid to let the gasses out — to prevent explosions. Try and let off some, but not all, of the pressure before quickly retightening the lid. De-pressurising the bottles too frequently will cause the Hooch to go flat.
Leave the Hooch to continue fermenting in the bottles for another week or so. The ideal drinking time is usually between 2-4 weeks, as if left too long it will become vinegary. Once the Hooch is finished, fermentation can be slowed by placing the bottles in a fridge until you are ready to enjoy them.
This is a refreshing drink best drunk chilled. If you fancy something a bit more alcoholic, then it also works well in cocktails!
Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!