The beauty of herbal syrups
HERBAL syrups, or elixirs as they are often called, are a pleasant and effective way to take your herbal tonic remedy delivering wholesome, balancing nourishment that increases vitality.
Many herbalists consider the elixir to be the ultimate form of herbal tonic, as it is more concentrated than teas; especially when made with an understanding of the energetic nature of each plant to support the multi-layered human being: body, mind, and spirit.
One can create a complementary synergy of helpful herbs that work like a team, compounding the beneficial effects of each individual herb.
The potent, earthy taste and tone of well-loved herbs in a sweet, honey base provides an enjoyable and nourishing sipping experience while also supporting our internal processes to augment our health.
How does one use them?
The most common form of herbal syrup is for coughs, but they can also address a wide range of ailments.
They are a great way to administer not-so-pleasant-tasting-but-efficacious herbs to young ones and bothered adults alike, or an effective way to add a flavoursome “hit” of your favourite herbs to beverages and food dishes to bring them to life. More importantly, herbal elixir syrups strengthen and nourish while restoring harmony within your body all on their own when taken by the spoonful for a readily absorbed dosage of concentrated herbs.
Nice-tasting herbal syrups can be added to water like a cordial or added to bubbly drinks or cocktails for a really interesting herbal twist.
Syrups as a type of herbal extract take extra time to make, but they keep for many months if they are refrigerated after opening, making them more convenient than simmering tonic herbs daily or making decoctions when you’re not feeling well and need a fortifying or energising lift.
Storing near heat should be avoided to prevent potential fermentation, which would likely create a sort of herbal honey mead or liqueur (which is fine when desired but not always suitable for the young or those sensitive to alcohol).
This versatile, herb-infused honey can be taken in small frequent doses, used in food or added to herbal teas. One could also add the syrup to herbal salves, homemade skincare products or use it directly on wounds and infections if the appropriate antiseptic herbs are employed.
So what are they?
A saturated solution of honey in water forms the base of syrup, into which herbal or other constituents may be incorporated; so it is basically a herbal decoction that is sweetened with a large amount of honey (or some other sugar.)
The amount of sweetener you use will vary depending upon how sweet you want your syrup and the sweet, sour, bitter or salty nature of the dried or fresh herbs that are used.
Honey syrups are preservative-free because honey is a healthy natural preservative in itself in place of alcohol for an otherwise unstable herbal solution.
Honey is the healthiest choice of sugar for syrups, especially in its raw form with the beeswax removed and its innate compatibility with herbs.
The herbs are steeped or simmered gently in the honey medium until the medicinal properties are extracted out of the plant material and into the honey to be stored for later or immediate use.
Good quality honey as a preferred sweetening agent and is very expensive these days, so it is seldom used as a syrup base any more. Compared to cane sugar, honey offers a more wholesome blend of fructose with some glucose and sucrose.
The perfect syrup base
Honey is very nutritious for a sugar when in its raw state.
It’s a mixture of carbohydrates and proteins and contains 18 free amino acids and a number of enzymes and trace amounts of B vitamins and vitamin C.
Minerals such as calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, selenium, chromium and manganese are also found in honey as well as antioxidants (the darker the honey, the more antioxidants it has) and other compounds.
Besides being antibacterial, honey has also been shown to be antiseptic, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, antitoxic, sedative, laxative, anti anaemic, antioxidant, healing and cleansing (external and internal), moisturising and blood-purifying. It promotes rehydration, is easily digestible, stimulates immunity and is beneficial for all types of skins diseases.
Only a little is needed
We are all aware by now how large doses of sugar, refined or otherwise, can inhibit the immune system and create innumerable health issues such as dental decay, cardiovascular disease and late-onset diabetes.
In itself, sugar is not a nutritional problem, having existed in the human diet for thousands of years in varying forms. It is today’s manic consumption of it, especially in refined form, that is hazardous.
For certain predisposed people, adding more sugar to a diet that may already be overburdened with refined carbohydrates is not wise; however a modest amount honey-sweet medicines, for most people, perhaps designed for very short-term therapeutic strategies, or to augment our nutrient supplementation, is a worthy addition to our wellness program.
Three very good reasons to use the honey syrup base are: excellent natural preservation; agreeable taste; and the multiple health benefits already existent in honey.
Fortunately, honey syrups and elixirs don’t contribute to large amounts of sugar going into the body at one time, even with frequent repeated doses.
A spoonful of honey helps the medicine go down
A syrup may sometimes make the difference to whether a medicine is taken or not for many children, likewise with fussy adults; a syrup may help a very bitter medicine, such as liver tonic, to be better tolerated.
Traditionally, syrups were always favoured as cholagogues (liver tonics) and also for notoriously nasty-tasting laxatives, often formulated as quite complex compounds.
Honey syrup acts as a demulcent in its own right, and is thus naturally soothing on the throat, digestive tract and by reflex, the lungs. In energetic terms, syrups are an excellent medium for nutritive (yin) tonics as opposed to the more eliminative yang nature of many alcoholic preparations.
From syrup to elixir
Syrups can be mixed with alcoholic herbal extracts and virtually all other liquid preparations for internal medication (provided these are preserved in their own right), and even with small quantities of appropriate essential oils. Very fine herb powder may also be held in suspension in the syrup.
Sometimes good quality vinegar may be added to the honey syrup to make what is called an ‘oxymel’.
This type of formula is relevant for pulmonary conditions where the demulcent honey is augmented by the expectorant and disinfectant properties of vinegar, the latter also being a good solvent for certain alkaloid remedies.
In fact these pulmonary elixirs for the treatment of respiratory complaints are called ‘linctuses’.
A linctus is an old-fashioned term for a cough syrup with mucilaginous properties that will temporarily coat the mucosa, for the benefit of the throat and, by reflex, the lungs.
A linctus may also contain a variety of expectorant, mucolytic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents.
Making syrups last
Clearly syrups were a practical solution for preserving herbal actives in times when refrigeration was not a household luxury.
Syrups must be made in a sterile environment with every effort to prevent contamination, with meticulous sterilising and drying of the bottles.
In order to prolong the shelf-life of a herbal syrup, refrigeration or low temperatures after opening are a pertinent move.
In a stable, cool environment, a syrup will last quite well - as long as it is administered by the spoonful, and not taken by the bottle, which may be hard to resist when many are so delicious!
Ideas for a healthier Easter for you body and mind.
Cacao Maca Chai Herbal Brew: A comforting and invigorating drink that combines antioxidant-rich raw cacao with vital, wholesome maca root and authentic chai spices.
Brown Sugar Body Buff: Smell and feel good enough to eat with a natural body polish to gently exfoliate and deeply moisturise your skin.
Face Scrub: Raw honey forms the base of this deep pore cleanser to treat blackheads, clogged pores and remove dead skin.
Herbal Elixirs: Choose from Honey & Liquorice (all stores), Cinnamon & Spice or Rosehip & Elderflower (Balingup only) for a potent daily tonic or pleasant pizazz to desserts and drinks.
Divine Delectables: Raw, organic chocolates and super balls available exclusively at our Balingup store (some varieties also available online). Educate your tastebuds on what real chocolate tastes like with this wholesome range that health nuts will love.