There are a wide variety of herbs that can be used to keep you well this winter!
When it comes to winter wellness, a key component in the herbalist’s arsenal is the Winter Home Apothecary, which should be stocked with herbal allies that can provide support when needed. These allies should include cordials, fire cider, honeys, oxymels, syrups, teas, & tinctures.
CORDIALS: Herbal cordials can be enjoyed as delicious beverages, as medicinal immune tonics, sleep remedies, aphrodisiacs, and digestive aides. They can be added to marinades, glazes, and jams, used to enhance caramelization when roasting vegetables and meats, and can be a way to utilize excess herbs and fruit.
FIRE CIDER: Fire cider is a staple herbal preparation to stock the winter home apothecary with every year. A traditional herbal folk recipe for both supporting the immune system and warming up circulation, fire cider is a wonderful preparation to use both preventatively throughout flu season and acutely when you feel the “tickle” of an illness coming on.
FIRE CIDER RECIPE: Ingredients: 1 large red onion, chopped, 3 heads garlic, chopped, 1 organic lemon with peel, diced, ½ cup fresh ginger root, grated, ½ cup fresh turmeric root, grated, ¼ cup fresh horseradish root, grated, ¼ cup fresh thyme, chopped, 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper, a few fresh cayenne or jalapeño peppers, raw honey to taste, and apple cider vinegar.
Directions: Remember, these ingredients are a start, but others can be added. Options include dried elderberries, cinnamon sticks, Echinacea, Astragalus root, and lavender flowers. Place all ingredients except honey in a half-gallon jar, and cover with apple cider vinegar by at least few inches, then cut a square of parchment or wax paper and cover the jar before tightly capping it. Store in a warm place for a few weeks, shaking the jar daily. After three weeks, the fire cider will pack a punch, but it can keep infusing if desired. At this point, strain out the herbs from the liquid, or blend the whole batch in a blender and let it sit for an additional week. Do not shake for the last few days to let the ingredients settle, then pour off the liquid. Either way, once the herbs finish infusing, add warmed raw honey to taste, mix thoroughly, and bottle. This doesn’t have to be refrigerated, but it can’t hurt.
HERBAL HONEYS: Honey has historically been used for a wide range of diseases, including eye diseases, bronchial asthma, throat infections, tuberculosis, thirst, hiccups, fatigue, dizziness, hepatitis, constipation, worm infestation, piles, eczema, ulcers, and wounds. Today, studies have validated many of these uses, especially in regard to respiratory illnesses, eye disease, wounds, and burns.
While honey alone offers potent medicine, infusing honey with medicinal herbs results in a simple yet powerful combination. Herbal honey is safe and effective, and can be made entirely from local ingredients, creating a beautiful relationship between plants, insects, and humans. Herbal honey is easy to make, has a variety of uses and a long shelf life, and is a beautiful way to capture the taste of your favorite herbs.
Gumweed (Grindelia) Flower Honey: Pick a cup of grindelia flowers for each 8-10 ounces of honey. The best ones are the flowers that are just beginning to open or are even still buds and have lots of sticky resin on them. This is where the good medicine is. Place the flowers into the jar of honey and put it in a dim place where the temperature doesn’t change too much and fermentation is avoided, opening to allow any gases to escape as needed. Turn several times a day so that the flowers are always covered with honey, then strain the flowers out 3 weeks later. Grindelia blooms in the summer months, so be sure to put its harvest on your calendar!
HERBAL OXYMELS: Herbal Oxymels are soothing for a dry, scratchy throat, and they are convenient to take on-the-go. Unlike syrup, which tends to be the thickest liquid herbal preparation and often messier to dispense, oxymels can be easily poured into smaller dropper bottles and used for acute support. Made from vinegar and honey, oxymels are a tasty and simple herbal preparation for the winter home apothecary.
While syrups and oxymels are generally similar in nature, there are several differences. Given their vinegar content, oxymels tend to have a longer shelf life and a more expectorant quality. In addition, oxymels are generally lower in sugar than herbal syrups. Since vinegar contains a more pungent aroma and taste, syrups are often a better option for children or adults with sensitive taste buds.
FOLK METHOD OXYMEL RECIPE: Ingredients: Dried herb of choice, 1-part apple cider vinegar, and 1-part raw honey.
Directions: In a clean, dry pint jar, place enough dried herb to fill ¼ of the way full. Cover the herbs with the vinegar and honey until the jar is full or slightly less than full. Strive for a ratio of approximately 1:3, herbs to vinegar and honey mixture. Stir the mixture with a clean, dry spoon, screw on a tight plastic lid, then shake until well mixed. Store the jar in a dark, cool place and shake every couple of days. Strain the mixture after about two weeks and store in a glass jar.
IMMUNE STIMULATING SYRUPS: Always ensure that at least one immune-stimulating herbal syrup is on hand before cold and flu season hits. Although herbal syrups are relatively fast to make in a pinch, it makes life so much easier to have them on hand when a sore throat hits, or when immune support is needed. Stock the winter home apothecary with a classic immune-stimulating elderberry syrup and add an antioxidant syrup such as Rose Hips. Families or individuals who are exposed to colds and the flu regularly may choose to use elderberry syrup daily throughout cold and flu season, use it only when exposure is suspected, or when signs of colds or flu is experienced.
SYRUPS FOR DRY COUGH: Dry coughs are those where no mucus is present, and the throat feels raw and dry. For a dry cough-supporting herbal syrup, moistening, demulcent, and anti-inflammatory herbs are preferred, along with antispasmodics. Herbs with these actions include Licorice Root, Marshmallow Root, Plantain leaf, and Thyme leaf.
SYRUPS FOR WET COUGH: Wet Coughs are those where mucus is coming up. For a wet cough supportive herbal syrup, expectorant herbs such as Elecampane root, Gumweed flower, and Horehound leaf are preferred.
Elecampane Syrup: Ingredients: 1/2 cup dried Elecampane root, 1/8 cup dried Horseradish root, 1/4 cup dried Ginger root, 2 cups water, 4 cups raw local honey, and 1 tablespoon powdered ascorbic acid.
Directions: Pour the herbs into a cook pot and heat to boiling. Cover pot with lid and allow herbs to steep a minimum of 20 minutes or until water darkens. If using a slow cooker, add a little more water to recipe and keep the lid on. Pour herbs through the strainer and keep 2 cups of infused water for syrup. Heat honey and infused water to make syrup.
More honey may be added for a sweeter syrup. Remove from heat and stir in ascorbic acid. Pour finished product into bottle and label clearly.
Storage and Use: Store Elecampane Cough Syrup in the refrigerator.
Children under 12: Take 1 teaspoon of syrup no more than 4 times daily for coughs. Adults: Take 1 tablespoon of syrup no more than 4 times daily for coughs. Not intended for children under age 2.
HYDRATING HERBAL TEAS: Hydration is important for the body to keep the organs working and carry nutrients to the cells. Most herbal tea blends lack caffeine, which makes them an excellent choice for quenching thirst and promoting hydration. Herbal tea provides the body with nutrients, antioxidants, and the medicinal benefits of the herbs used. Herbs that promote hydration include Chamomile, Hibiscus, Holy Basil, Lavender, and Rose.
WINTER TEA BLEND RECIPE: Berry and Flower Spice Tea: This recipe makes one big mug of tasty herbal tea. Ingredients: 1 teaspoon dried elderberries, 1 teaspoon dried holy basil leaves, 1 teaspoon dried Calendula flower, 1 teaspoon dried rose petals, 1 teaspoon cinnamon chips, ½ teaspoon dried ginger root, and 12 ounces boiling hot water.
Directions: Place all the herbs in a heatproof container and cover with boiling hot water. Let steep for 15 to 30 minutes. Strain and serve with honey if desired.
HERBAL TINCTURES: An herbal tincture is a long lasting and effective form of receiving an herb’s medicinal gifts. It has a much longer shelf life than an infusion or decoction and can be stored in a bag or cupboard for easy access and use. Tinctures are herbal preparations that use something beyond water as a solvent. Using a solvent like alcohol, vinegar, or glycerin extracts a greater spectrum of the whole plant and preserves the medicine much longer than an infusion or a decoction. Alcohol is an excellent solvent that extracts a wide range of plant properties and allows for easy absorption of healing compounds into the bloodstream.
ECHINACEA TINCTURE RECIPE: Ingredients: 2 parts dried Echinacea Root, 1-part dried Echinacea Herb, 1-part fresh Garlic, chopped, 1-part dried Eleuthero Root, 1/2-part Cayenne powder, 100 proof Vodka, and 1 quart-sized glass mason jar. Please note: Part equals volume, not weight.
Directions: Using a quart-sized glass mason jar, begin filling it with the herbs and dried plant material until it is 1/4 full. Add enough 100 proof Vodka to the herbs to cover them, filling the jar, leaving a 1/2-inch headspace. Shake until well combined. Set the jar on a counter in a high-traffic area and shake it as many times as possible throughout each day. Allow the mixture to steep at least 4 weeks. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth. Pour the prepared tincture into a dark glass bottle and discard the herbs. Label the tincture with the name, date, and contents.