Healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups and cough drops - Part 2

Herbal Syrups


Herbal syrups are sweetened, condensed herbal infusions. Cough drops are concentrated syrups. Alcohol is frequently added to syrups to help prevent fermentation and stabilize the remedy. Cough drops and lozenges, having less water, keep well without the addition of alcohol.

Bitter herbs, especially when effective in a fairly small dose, are often made into syrups: horehound, yellow dock, dandelion, chicory, and motherwort spring to mind in this regard.

Herbs that are especially effective in relieving throat infections and breathing problems are also frequently made into syrups, especially when honey is used as the sweetener: coltsfoot flowers (not leaves), comfrey leaves (not roots), horehound, elder berries, mullein, osha root, pine, sage, and wild cherry bark are favorites for "cough" syrups.

Using Herbal Syrups

A dose of most herbal syrup is 1-3 teaspoonfuls, taken as needed. Take a spoonful of bitter syrup just before meals for best results. Take cough syrups as often as every hour.

Make an Herbal Syrup

To make an herbal syrup you will need the following supplies:

One ounce of dried herb (weight, not volume)
A clean dry quart/liter jar with a tight lid
Boiling water
Measuring cup
A heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan
2 cups sugar or 1½ cups honey
A sterilized jar with a small neck and a good lid (a cork stopper is ideal)
A little vodka (optional)
A label and pen

Place the full ounce of dried herb into the quart jar and fill it to the top with boiling water. Cap tightly. After 4-10 hours, decant your infusion, saving the liquid and squeezing the herb to get the last of the goodness out of it.

Measure the amount of liquid you have (usually about 3½ cups). Pour this into the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat until the infusion is just barely simmering. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (pour it out of the pan and into the measuring cup now and then to check). This step can take several hours; the decoction is not spoiled if it is reduced to less than half, but it is ruined if it boils hard or if it burns. Keep a close eye on it.

When you have reduced the infusion to less then two cups, add the sugar or honey (or sweetener of your choice) and bring to a rolling boil. Pour, boiling hot, into your jar. (Sterilize the jar by boiling it in plain water for a few minutes just before filling it.) If desired, add some vodka to preserve the syrup.

Allow the bottle of syrup to come to room temperature. Label it. Store it in the refrigerator or keep it in a cool place.

Make Herbal Cough Drops

You must make a syrup with sugar, not honey to make cough drops, but you can use raw sugar or brown sugar instead of white sugar and it will work just as well.

Instead of pouring your boiling hot syrup into a bottle, keep boiling it. Every minute or so, drop a bit into cold water. When it forms a hard ball in the cold water, immediately turn off the fire. Pour your very thick syrup into a buttered flat dish. Cool, then cut into small squares.

A dusting of powdered sugar will keep them from sticking. Store airtight in a cool place.

Make Throat-Soothing Lozenges

Put an ounce of marshmallow root powder or slippery elm bark powder in a bowl.
Slowly add honey, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste
Roll your slippery elm paste into small balls
Roll the balls in more slippery elm powder

Store in a tightly-closed tin. These will keep for up to ten years.

Plants that I use to make Herbal Syrups

Comfrey leaves (Symphytum uplandica x)
Chicory roots (Cichorium intybus)
Dandelion flowers or roots (Taraxacum off.)
Elder berries (Sambucus canadensis)
Horehound leaves and stems (Marrubium vulgare)
Motherwort leaves (Leonurus cardiaca) pick before flowering
Plantain leaves or roots (Plantago majus)
Osha root (Ligusticum porterii)
Pine needles or inner bark (Pinus)
Sage (Salvia off.)
Wild cherry bark (Prunus serotina)
Yellow dock roots (Rumex crispus)

Experiment Number One

Make a simple syrup, using only one plant. Make it once with honey, once with white sugar, and once with a sweetener of your choice, such as barley malt, agave syrup, molasses, sorghum syrup, or maple syrup. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)

Experiment Number Two

Make a syrup with three or more plants. Choose plants that are local to your area, or ones that you can most easily buy.

Experiment Number Three

Make three or more simple herbal honeys using different parts of plants, such as flowers, leaves, roots, or seeds. (See list for suggestions of plants to use.)

Experiment Number Four

Make an herbal honey with a plant rich in essential oils (such as sage, rosemary, lavender, or mint). Try it as a wound treatment. Try it on minor burns. Try it as a facial masque. Record your observations.

Experiment Number Five

Make one or more of the recipes in this lesson.

Further Study

  1. Make a yellow dock iron tonic syrup following the recipe in my book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.
  2. Make "Peel Power" following the recipe in my book New Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.

Advanced Work

Compare the effects of honey from the supermarket, organic honey, raw honey, and herbal honey by using each one to treat the same problems and carefully recording your observations.