Herbal Oxymels From the Flower Garden

Oxymels combine the sweetness of honey, the tanginess of apple cider vinegar, and your favorite medicinal flowers for a summer remedy unlike any other! They are certainly one of the lesser-known forms of herbal remedies—unlikely to be found on the shelf of your local food co-op—which makes them a perfect do-it-yourself project for your kitchen machinations, that can be enjoyed for years or gifted with glee.

Properly made oxymels are one of the most delicious herbal remedy forms. Their complex flavor is versatile enough to use as a medicine from a dropper or spoon, but also as a salad dressing, marinade, or baking sweetener in the grand tradition of food as medicine.

Oxymels are versatile in more than just flavor: the medicine they impart is broadly useful, in addition to the medicinal uses of the herbs themselves. Vinegar is a powerhouse at extracting healthy minerals from herbs, including calcium, iron, and magnesium that naturally occur in plants like nettles, raspberry, oatstraw, chickweed, red clover, and alfalfa. High quality raw vinegar offers a probiotic gut tonic all its own, as well as doing a wonderful job extracting healthy soluble fiber (the “heart healthy” kind that helps metabolize cholesterol and hormones) from fiber-rich roots such as burdock, marshmallow, and elecampane. Honey imparts a plethora of enzymes and both probiotic and prebiotic compounds that aid in its anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, immune boosting, and wound healing properties, as well as extracting medicinal compounds from herbs. This yields a uniquely well-rounded remedy with broad applications, so tasty that your friends and family will come back for more!

Oxymels have been in use for thousands of years, dating back to Ancient Persia, Greece, and Rome, where they are lauded by Hippocrates, Cato, and Pliny. The delicious practice has persisted, as you can still order a traditional oxymel called sekanjabin to drink at Persian restaurants. They largely fell by the wayside in US herbalism until Rosemary Gladstar began teaching her glorious, perennially popular Fire Cider recipe in 1981. As the herbal renaissance blooms in this country, oxymels are becoming increasingly popular, as creative herbalists explore the nuances of medicine making.

There is plenty of space for creativity and personalization in making oxymels. Feel free to double the honey, cut the vinegar in half, add some cloves of garlic, or whatever tastes good to you!

Tools for Oxymels

Double boiler
2 glass pint jars
1 glass quart jar, or a pretty glass bottle of similar size
Wax paper
Labels
Strainer or potato ricer

General Oxymel Instructions

These instructions apply to the following three recipes, and any others you make up!

1. Blend herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles.

2. Put one pile of herbs and all honey in the top of the double boiler and cover. Heat as gently as possible over the lowest heat, ensuring honey does not get warmer than your skin, as this destroys the benefits of raw honey. It helps to turn the burner off when the water is hot in the bottom of the double boiler. Heat for 1-2 hours, until the room is fragrant and the honey tastes amazing.

Option: Some people prefer to put herbs in honey and allow it to infuse without heat for 1-2 months.

3. As the honey infuses, put the second pile of herbs in a pint jar. Fill jar with raw apple cider vinegar. Cut a square of wax paper a few inches larger than the lid, and place between the jar lid and its contents to prevent deterioration of the cap’s metal and plastic into the vinegar. Label with the ingredients and date.

Option: If you’re in a hurry, you can gently heat the vinegar in a double boiler as described in step 3, but the vinegar won’t be raw anymore, and allowing the herbs to infuse slowly will impart a fuller, more complex medicine and flavor.

4. When the honey is infused, decant it with the herbs into the second jar, and treat as for Step 3.

Option: If you’re in a hurry, you can strain out herbs and blend with a heated vinegar at this point, but allowing the herbs to infuse slowly will impart a fuller, more complex medicine and flavor.

5. Store both vinegar and honey in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks.

6. Strain out herbs, pressing the last of the liquid from them; a potato ricer works well.

7. Combine honey and vinegar into a quart jar or pretty bottle and shake vigorously.

8. Label with ingredients and date.

Grandmother’s Flower Garden Oxymel

Ever lament the passing of the far-too-brief lilac season? This easy recipe captures the scent of spring’s promise and preserves it for another season. Medicinally, both lilac and rose are gently soothing to the nervous system, especially as allies through hardship and grief: calming our anxieties, smoothing our frazzled edges, and keeping us present in the moment, to help us stop and smell the roses.

1 1/2 to 2 cups each of Lilac and Rose flowers

Harvest flowers at their peak and use same day
Any fragrant cultivar is appropriate; wild rose (Multiflora) is also wonderful

12-16 oz raw local honey

12-16 oz raw apple cider vinegar

  • Remove stems from flowers. Tear or chop flowers.
  • Blend lilac and rose flowers together equally, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar.
  • Follow steps 1-8 under the General Oxymel Instructions, above
  • Enjoy as an herbal remedy (by the teaspoon), instead of half the sugar in baked goodies like cranberry muffins or banana bread, drizzled on ice cream, on pancakes…

End of Hibernation Oxymel

This savory recipe contains the benefits of spring tonics, herbs that are historically taken in spring to stimulate healthy organ function after a long winter, helping us step into the new season rejuvenated. Dandelion is a delightfully bitter herb famous for stimulating overall digestive function, particularly improving the workings of the liver, gall bladder, and small intestine, as well as the kidneys, for healthy digestion, nutrient absorption, hormone and cholesterol balance, and excretory function. Chickweed is a common garden weed with a bright taste that improves kidney and lymphatic function, increasing our bodies’ filtration and excretory abilities, which in turn improves immunity and cardiovascular health, as well as clearing skin. Red clover has a mild, sweet taste and helps protect our bodies from some of the harmful effects of pollution by blocking the activity of xenoestrogens on our hormone receptors, as well as imparting a mild mood-uplifting aspect: I think of this flower as late spring’s deep, hopeful breath before summer’s hectic activity encourages us to burn the candle at both ends. Chives’ mild garlicky spice brings with it gentle immune boosting properties, as well as stimulating liver activity for overall health, as the liver is involved in essential processes throughout the body.

3/4 cup to 1 cup of each of the following:
Dandelion flowers and leaves
Chickweed flowers, leaves, and stems
Red clover flowers
Chives flowers
12-16 oz raw local honey
12-16 oz raw apple cider vinegar

  • Chop flowers and leaves
  • Blend herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar
  • Follow steps 1-8 under the General Oxymel Instructions, above
  • Enjoy as an herbal remedy (by the teaspoon), as a salad dressing, to marinate chicken or tofu, or tossed with roasted vegetables!

Chill Pill Oxymel

Lemon balm is one of my personal favorites in an oxymel, as it brings its own bright tanginess to the already complex flavors. The combination of lemon balm, borage, and lavender delivers a distinctly cooling aspect for the coming summer heat. Medicinally, this recipe is cooling to our hot summer nervous systems as well, relaxing us to decrease stress in the midst of summer’s hustle-bustle, while clarifying our minds, sharpening memory and alertness, and helping us gather strength for the work ahead: it’s like a quick dip in a cold stream on a blisteringly hot June day.

1 to 1 1/3 cup of each of the following:
Lemon balm leaves and flowers (or just leaves if it is not yet blooming)
Lavender leaves and flowers
Borage flowers
12-16 oz raw local honey
12-16 oz raw apple cider vinegar

  • Chop flowers and leaves
  • Blend herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar
  • Follow steps 1-8 under the General Instructions, above
  • Enjoy as an herbal remedy (by the teaspoon), to sweeten and invigorate iced tea, or instead of half the sugar in baked goodies like sugar cookies, scones, or cranberry muffins.

 

This article was first published in Mother Earth Living, a wonderful publication available on your local newsstand!

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