There are many methods for preparing and extracting the therapeutic benefits of herbs. Using them in tea and tinctures are two of the most common methods. An herbal syrup is another excellent way to take herbs although this method is not as well known.
The basic recipe for an herbal syrup:
1 cup of herb
2 – 3 cups of water
1 – 1.5 cups of honey
- Simmer the herb over a very low flame in a covered pot for 30 minutes.
- Take off the burner and steep for another 30 minutes.
- Strain out the herb and continue to simmer the water (now a tea) until it is reduced by half. In this case, there will be 1 to 1.5 cups of liquid remaining.
- You now have a very strong herbal decoction that is dark and thick.
- While this is still warm, add an equal amount of honey and stir well.
You now have 16 – 24 oz of herbal syrup. It should keep for a few weeks if refrigerated, as both the honey and the cool temperature are mild preservatives. Alcohol can be added to the finished syrup to preserve it much longer; several months to a year. The finished product should contain 20% alcohol.
Pros & Cons of Syrup
In my experience, there are three advantages to using therapeutic plants in the form of an herbal syrup. One is the flavor; most people find these preparations to be quite pleasing, even those folks who are new to herbalism.
Another advantage is the lack of alcohol. While it is an excellent preservative and thoroughly extracts the beneficial properties, it is not for everyone. Some people need or choose to avoid alcohol for cultural and personal reasons. Syrups are ideal for these folks.
One more advantage, often overlooked, is the actual process of making the syrup. This personal interaction with the herb – making a home made product, is part of the healing process. It connects us to the plant and is preferable to purchasing a jar of capsules off the shelf.
The main disadvantage is the shorter shelf life if not using alcohol. I don’t see this as a major problem; it isn’t that difficult to make a syrup once a month.
Which Herbs are Best?
I have found that heavier plant parts work well in syrups. These dense roots, berries and barks need to be simmered longer anyways. So taking an extra step and creating a syrup is relatively straightforward.
My current herbal favorites for syrups are Ashwagandha root, dried elder berries and dried hawthorn berries. There are many other possibilities but these provide a good place to begin. It is ultimately a personal preference; there are few absolute rights and wrongs in this process.
Some herbs are overcooked and ruined if simmered for a long time. As a general rule, plants that are aromatic (peppermint) or flowers (calendula) don’t make good syrups.
How Much Do I Use?
Syrups are often used with herbs that don’t require a specific pharmaceutical-type dose. Rather, these are plants that straddle the food-medicine border and are used as nutritive tonics. With this in mind, taking one tablespoon 2 – 4 times a day is good for most people.
Syrups can also be used in similar ways as commercial syrups. Drizzle in yogurt, add to smoothies, some folks even like them in a bowl of oatmeal. The possibilities are many.