The Origin Of Mead

The story of Honey Wine is as old as that of any other drink known to mankind. From Greece to India, it finds mention in many ancient texts, and has several interesting tales associated with it, which relate it with mythology, supernatural powers, romance and honey-moon. The tales of wine are as sweet as the honey from which it originates.
The Origin of Mead
Source - Wikimedia Commons (

Mead occupies a unique place in the history of alcoholic drinks. It is ancient, exotic, romantic and historical - a subject of poet's imagination and that of a lover's fantasy. No doubt then that it is the darling of historians, archaeologists, authors and poets at the same time.

Also known as 'HONEY WINE', mead is not only related to the concept of 'HONEY MOON', it is also a vital link between different ancient civilizations that prospered a few thousand years ago in the East and the West, during pre-historic era. Expectedly therefore, references to mead are often found in mythological description

of ancient texts, whose historical value as a reflection of culture and tradition of those times is more easily accepted than the accuracy of events narrated therein.

What is Mead ?

Mead is essentially a wine made by fermentation of honey using yeast. It is one of the oldest wines made by mankind, and was often associated with health generating, aphrodisiac or even magical powers in ancient literature and mythology. It is believed to have been highly popular in ancient times, but lost favour during the medieval era, though recently its popularity again seems to be on the rise.

When did Mead Originate : Mead in History

The word 'mead' is said to have originated from the old English word 'medu', which is distinctly similar to the Proto-German word 'meduz' and ancient Baltic word 'midus', all of which have the same meaning, honey, and all have their roots in ancient Proto-Indo-European languages, that included Sanskrit, the ancient language of India from which all Indian languages are said to have evolved. In Sanskrit, 'madhu' means honey, 'madira' means wine and 'madhu-shala', literally meaning 'house of madhu', refers to the bar, where wine is stored and served.

In the oldest Sanskrit text, Rigveda, believed to be written between 1100 to 1700 B.C., there are several references to mead. Similar references, in greater detail, start appearing in ancient Greece from the period of Aristotle in fourth century B.C. He described mead in his text, 'Meteorologica.' Later in first century A.D., Naturalis Historia written by 'Pliny the elder' described mead, which was called 'militites' and described as an entity which is different from wine mixed with honey. There is a mention of mead in Ethiopian literature as well, where it is called 'Tej.' It is referred to as the toast wine between the queen of Sheba and king Solomen in tenth century B.C. and after drinking which they got united.

In sixth century A.D., Taleisin, a poet in Sub-Roman Britain wrote a poem called 'song of mead' or 'Kanu y med', which describes aspects of mead. Mead also founds reference in Norse (Scandinavian) mythology, where the 'mead of poetry' or the 'mead of Suttungr' is a mythological drink that can convert a layman to a scholar, which finds mention in the 'tale of Kvasir's murder.' In most other mythological texts too,

mead is assigned some supernatural or healing powers. In many ancient medications, honey was used and the mythical powers assigned to mead seem to be somewhat related to the use of honey for treating ailments. Another reason of assigning great qualities to mead could be the fact that in certain areas like Russia, due to the cold climate, fermentation of honey was a very long process that could take up to fifty years, and any drink that takes so long to prepare is bound to become highly valued as well as full of fancies and fantasies.

Mead & Honey Moon

Mead is also related to the coining of the term 'honey moon'. Due to the belief in its magical and health generating properties, many parts of Europe had a tradition to gift the newly married couple with enough mead that will last a month. This practice lies in the root of referring the first month after marriage as 'honey-moon', or as the French say, 'lune de miel.' Interestingly, the word 'honey moon' is not limited to English and French alone. In Welsh, the term is 'mis mel' literally meaning honey-month.

The Hebrew word yerach 'D'vash', the Arabic word 'shahr-el-assal', the Italian 'luna di miele', Spanish 'luna de miel', and the Persian term 'mah-e-asal', all literally mean honey-moon or honey-month and refer to a certain period immediately after marriage. Such common use of the word honey is actually a proof of ancient origin of mead and its acceptance in the ancient human societies as a drink that promotes health and sex drive. The belief that mead is an aphrodisiac may be a strong reason behind the concept of offering mead to the newly married couple, and terming the post wedding period as honey-moon.

Later Variations in Mead

Mead probably began as a simple drink resulting from fermentation of honey by yeast, but gradually several varieties of mead have been developed, depending on the additives that were added to it during the process of brewing it and which added their own flavour to it. METHEGLIN is mead in which herbs and spices like cinnamon are added for additional flavour. MELOMEL is mead to which fruits are added. CYSER requires addition of apple juice, while PYMENT is made when grape juices are added. These variations have gradually developed over the period of time and have added to the rich history of mead.

All said, mead remains a great option for the connoisseur. Whether honey-moon or not, we can all take a sip and raise a toast to the long tradition of enjoying this honey-wine.

Please login to comment on this post.
There are no comments yet.
A Brief History Of Beer
The Value Of The Hop To The Beer-making Process