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Monday, February 21, 2011

Herbal Medicine Chest #5 - Syrups, Honeys, Vinegars and Wines

This is the 5th week of our Herbal Medicine Chest.  Join us every Monday for the next several weeks to explore herbal preparations and put together your own Herbal Medicine Chest. Share your favorite remedies with the linking tool at the end of each Monday's post. (Now closed to new entries)

See the Herbal Medicine Chest page to connect with the articles in this series that talk about creating those basic preparations.

The following group of herbal preparations deliver our remedies in some very flavorful ways.

Syrups and Honeys - are the epitome of  "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down" with their thick, sweet flavor, not only pleasing to taste but also coating and soothing.  A syrup might be a good choice for delivering an herbal remedy because children are more willing to take it, or because the sweetness masks the strong flavor of herbs like horehound (Yikes!) or because we need the remedy to go down more slowly, coating the throat or the esophagus and sphincter with their soothing, healing goodness.  Maybe a combination of the three!  Or you can add them to a cup of tea to sweeten, flavor and add healing benefits in a mild tasting, warm, soothing medium.
There are a couple methods used to produce syrups.  Remember the Teas, Infusions and Decoctions we made earlier?  Let's start there...

Method #1 - In a saucepan, combine equal parts prepared herbal infusion or decoction and unrefined sugar or honey. Heat.  Stir until dissolved.  Store in dark glass bottles with cork stoppers.  This is important because a little fermentation may take place and the expansion may cause the bottle to burst if capped tightly.

Method #2 - Herbal honey or syrup- A slower extraction method that involves packing a jar with fresh herbs.  Cover the herbs with honey and let sit for 3 weeks.  Strain out the marc and cap.  Because there is no water involved in this method and honey is such a good preservative, mold and fermentation are not much of a problem.  Honey brings it's own healing properties to this type of syrup making it my favorite for sore throats and coughs.

Method #3 - For use with herbs that require cooking to activate their healing potential or to deactivate chemical compounds in their make up that might make you sick.  Elderberry is one of those plants.  See tidbit for more...  To make elderberry syrup, you'll need approx. 1 cup of fresh berries or 1/2 cup of dried berries.  Boil these in 3 cups of water, then reduce heat and simmer, covered 20-30 minutes. Strain and return to pan.  Simmer until reduced by half.  Add 1 cup honey to warm juice.  Stir well and pour into a glass jar.  Cap and refrigerate for up to 6 weeks.  Take 1-2 tsps. every 1-2 hours while sick with a cold or flu and 1 tbsp daily as a preventative measure.
Additional herbs and spices can be added cloves, cinnamon and fresh ginger.

here to purchase dried elderberries or here to buy ready made elderberry syrup.

Be sure to check out Melissa'a recipe for elderberry syrup in the linky below.

Herbal tidbit - Elderberry is one of the most powerful antiviral (among other things) herbal remedies we know.  It's stood the test of time and been shown to boost our immune system, working to protect us during cold and flu season and also to help eliminate viral infections.  It's a favorite in my herbal medicine chest. 

However, elderberries contain a bitter alkaloid and glycoside that may change into cyanide.  Cooking the berries for jam or syrup deactivates this process making the berries safe to use.   History tells the sad tale of children who used the pithy stems for peashooters and men who used them as maple sap spigots and were poisoned.  So, even though ancient herbal experts used the bark, leaves etc.  Don't mess with them.  My rule of thumb regarding elderberry is don't use the "green" parts.  That means no leaves, twigs, bark or least until I've learned more about them. Leave that up to the medicine men!

Herbal Vinegars - these extractions, or tinctures are very similar to those we talked about earlier but with a few additional properties. Vinegar, by nature, brings with it a mildly acidic base that aids in extraction, masks the flavor of more harsh tasting herbs and provides a bit of preservation for your remedy. Herbal vinegars can be used both internally and externally. In many cases, they are useful as gargles and can be added to syrups. Herbal vinegars also make cleansing, yet softening additions to cosmetics and hair rinses. And lastly, depending on the herbs you choose, they make tasty dressings for salads. If you're using vinegar as a daily detox (see more here) herbal vinegars can deliver herbal remedies and/or preventative properties at the same time.  Although, when detoxing, the best vinegar to use is raw organic apple cider vinegar, there are lots of vinegars that can be used to create herbal blends.  Wine vinegars have a mild taste that enhances herbal flavors with out overpowering them.
To make an herbal vinegar, use the cold extraction method just as you would for tinctures.

Shrub - A popular drink from the Colonial era started out as a vinegar, was turned into a syrup and then diluted with ice and water to make a very refreshing, non-alcoholic tonic with a bit of "zing" in each glass. 

The most common flavor, although there are lots of choices, was raspberry.  To make raspberry shrub, cover mashed raspberries with vinegar and let stand for 2-3 weeks.  Strain out the berries and add equal parts sugar to vinegar, stir until dissolved and simmer 20 minutes.  Cool a bit and then bottle and cork.  Add 1-2 TBSP of shrub to a glass of ice then top off with water.  To give a little effervescence to your shrub, add a pinch of baking soda to the shrub before adding water.  I enjoy raspberry but another favorite is ginger shrub.  Experiment with your favorite fruits and herbs.

Switchel - Another Colonial era beverage popular during the hot, late summer days of haymaking season.  Before sports drinks were invented, folks drank this refreshing beverage that was loaded with electrolyte.  These drinks were made with molasses, a combination of molasses and sugar, maple syrup or honey with added ginger and cider vinegar (here's your chance to add those herbal infused vinegars for an extra punch) and water.

Oxymel - a blend of water, vinegar and honey used for medicinal purposes, dating back to the time of Hippocrates.

Herbal Wines - This pleasing herbal preparation also brings with it the soothing medicinal benefits of both wine and herbs.  There are a couple methods for making herbal wine.

Method #1 - as with a tincture, the herbs can be steeped in the wine for about 3-6 weeks, strained and corked.  Tonic wines are a good way to extract the medicinal properties of roots.

Method #2 - herbs are incorporated into the wine making process along with fruits.  Wine making has been going on since nearly the beginning of time.  Because wine making is as much an art as it is a science and I have minimal experience, I'm not going to get into specifics. 
I know a young man who has done a bit of wine making so, Zach, I know you're busy but if you'd like to write more, share a link or comment on this, I'd love to hear from you.  Also, my friends at Lady Bug Farm might have some insight to share from their experiences making wine and meade.   I'd be glad to hear from them as well. 
The process involves sugar, water, yeast and whatever fruit, vegetable or plant you want to preserve or extract in this way.  Active yeast, as you know, loves to eat sugar.  The byproduct is alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The more sugar the yeast eats, the higher the alcohol content.  I didn't talk about making your own vinegar, although the process is nearly the same as wine making, but I'll share my experience with making my own wine. 
Each spring, we gather young dandelion flowers to make dandelion wine.  After gathering only the dandelion flowers when they are fully open on a sunny day, we begin the rather tedious process of pulling the flower petals from the greens.  As the dandelion flowers begin to wilt, they also begin to close.  This happens in a short time so by the time we've picked enough, they are starting to wilt.  We just grab the entire yellow part of the flower head and pinch off the greens at their base.  Any green in the mix will cause an undesirable bitterness and also interfere with the fermentation.  You'll need about 3 quarts of blossoms.  Boil a gallon of water and pour it over the flowers in a large pot.  Cover and steep for 3 days.
Peel and juice 2 oranges and 1 lemon.  Save the peels and liquid.  Add the peels to the flower water and return to a boil.  Remove from heat and strain.  Add sugar to hot liquid and stir until dissolved.   After the mixture has cooled, add the juice from the oranges and lemon, 1 pound of raisins and 1 oz. fresh yeast.  Put this mix into a crock with a loose fitting lid.  After the mix stops working (a few days to a week), strain the liquid and bottle.  Slip a balloon over the top of the bottles to watch for more fermentation.  When the balloon has been deflated for a couple days, cork the bottles and store in a cool, dark place for at least 6 months before drinking. If I play my cards right, that means the wine will be ready to open for Thanksgiving! 
Standard dose is 1oz. daily for medicinal purposes.  Or at the first sign of an illness.  Read more about The Humble Dandelion.

Worty Wine - although the process is the same, wine made with plant leaves is called "Wort" - worty wine might be made with grape leaves, lemon balm or many others.  As much as our family likes grape leaves, this is one I'll have to try.

Mountain Rose Herbs offers some great infomation about this process and some of the others I've mentioned.

If you'd like, you can grab my button from the sidebar to share with others. Just copy and paste the html text onto your site or post to provide a direct link back to The Woodwife's Journal.

This article has been shared with:
Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth

The Homestead Barn Hop

Monday Mania

Real Food Wednesday

Simple Lives Thursday


Fight Back Friday

Wildcrafting Wednesday #54

Strangers and Pilgrim's on Earth's About Elderberry Herbal Link-up


  1. Thanks for inviting me to include my remedies! Blessings ~ Carmen @ Pebble Crossing

  2. You have a great blog hop going. I don't have much going on right now, planning on some facial creams, and ointments in the near future so I will link up then..


  3. Hey, nice to have both of you visiting! looking forward to seeing you here again and learning about the remedies/facial creams your making!

  4. Thanks for hosting! I am sharing a post from a while back, I hope that is ok. What an interesting hop, I think I will have a look around.


  5. Amazing skills you've learned here. Someday maybe I'll be able to spend enough time to learn these recipes and such.
    Thanks for linking up to the Barn Hop!

  6. lots of things going on - never thought of putting herbs into wine! {:-D

  7. I always learn so much for your posts!

  8. Wow - lots of information here! I have added you to my places to visit and will be checking in again. Found you by way of Jenny Matlock.
    As one migraine sufferer to another - so good to know you are back from that dark place. Be well.

  9. @taylorsoutback
    Hey, Thanks for adding your remedy to my list! Peppermint is one of our favorites, too. I carry a roll-on of peppermint and one of lavender in my bag all the time! Both are great for run of the mill migraines but every now and then I get the down and dirty ones that just won't quit! Take care and come back to visit again. I'm following your blog now and look forward to checking it out this weekend!

  10. I'm sorry about your migraine! What an informative and wonderful post.

    I always learn so much here. So many of these seem like 'lost recipes'...the ones I remember my Grandmother making.

    It's fantastic to see them being used and revived again.

    Thanks for a wonderful link to Alphabe-Thursday's letter "W".


  11. These are very helpful for our health as well.Nice information submit here.

  12. Well i like to have unique type of information in the field of herbal medicine and for this i travel to different areas to get new type of species. Thanks for the great medium of useful stuff. Keep sharing like that.

  13. The product is looking nice and i definitely try this and purchase it as soon as possible because you tell that it is made for all natural things which never harm you.liquid extracts

  14. I have some dried hibiscus flowers and a bottle of red wine. I'd like to try method # 1 for the herbal wine. I'm just not to sure what quantities to use.

  15. @Anonymous Hello! Thanks for visiting. I'd follow the same quantities as an alcohol tincture. You can read about those @ Hope that helps.

  16. Than you so much! Be well!

  17. amazing,it's delicious herb drinking recipes

  18. This is a great resource! Thank you for sharing it on our "Elderberry Link Up" this month!


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Preparing small batch natural, additive free products for beauty, health and home right here in our kitchen since 1991 from herbs grown organically in our garden, wild crafted in nearby meadows and woodlands or purchased from reputable, like-minded companies. Dried everlasting wreaths, arrangements and potpourri. Herbal salves, tinctures, soaps, teas and more.