Herbal Experimentation

While I have had some herbalist education, listen to educational podcasts, and look through my herbal healing books on a regular basis, I do not consider myself an expert. I am more knowledgeable than most, and I continue to learn something new about herbs and the way they work every day. Part of this learning process is experimentation.

Remember a few posts back about my herbal steam? That worked GREAT to help clear my stuffy nose, but whatever I had ended up moving into my chest after awhile. So I was coughing, or feeling the urge to cough (unproductively, I might add) for WEEKS. As in I just stopped coughing for the most part within the past few days. The best part is that of course, now my husband has it. Things like this trend to work their way through his system WAY faster than mine, so I’m not too worried.

Anyway, part of what I did over the past few weeks to help us get through this is to make an herbal cough syrup. Have you ever tried Wild Cherry Bark Cough Syrup? That stuff is awesome! It’s the reason old fashioned cough syrup didn’t taste that great… but it works like a dream. Anyway, I had harvested some wild cherry bark back in February of this year and thought I should try working with this wonderful herbal ally. Then I thought: Ooh! Rose hips would add vitamin C! And I harvested some elacampane root this year, that’s an excellent cough remedy… Oh, and I have some dried elderberries, let’s throw some of those in! It kind of kept going like that until I had thrown all together: elderberries, rose hips, wild cherry bark, red sumac berries, astragalus root, elacampane root, fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, some cloves, black peppercorns, licorice root, and a little white pine bark.

I know, I sound like a kitchen sink herbalist here. And sometimes I am! But I am getting better at realizing that certain herbs not only work well together, but also TASTE great together. So I simmered this concoction in water for a good half hour to an hour. After that, I strained the solids out through a cheese cloth, then returned the resulting liquid back to the pot and turned the burner on low. I was aiming to reduce the liquid a bit, to concentrate the constituents before adding my sweetener.

I have the patience of a gnat, so this didn’t last long. I kept the heat on low for about twenty minutes, and around the end I added about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of raw honey. I actually had some old sage-infused honey in the cupboard so I figured that would be an even better added boost, since sage is known for healing scratchy throats. I didn’t measure jack squat throughout this entire process, so I’m sorry I can’t give you an exact recipe here. The glass pot I use holds about a quart’s worth of water, if that helps. I wanted to keep the heat low so I wouldn’t kill any of the benefits from the raw honey.

Anyhoo, after the honey was well incorporated into the warm decoction, I poured it through the cheesecloth again for good measure and into a glass swing top bottle I had. After pouring it all in, I had a little room left near the top of the bottle. This was perfect, because I really wanted to add some brandy to the jar to help preserve the mixture, mainly because I hadn’t used nearly enough honey to turn it into a real “syrup.” I would guess I added about 1/3 cup of brandy, then I plugged the top with the swing top cork and gave the bottle a shake. I opened it once to burp it, just in case, then closed it up again and stuck it in the door of the refrigerator.

Finished syrup

We are now on our second bottle. I occasionally change up the recipe (am I out of rose hips? Add some orange peels instead… maybe throw some mullein leaves into the pot after the heat has been turned off) and we are going through it like crazy because it works FANTASTIC. The kids like it, we all love the flavor, and it helps stop the coughing for a good couple of hours. Instead of a small medicine cup, we just take about a half shot glass’ worth, maybe a bit more if the coughing is really bad. I gave some to my daughter to help her cough last week and she stopped coughing immediately. I wouldn’t worry about the brandy– it doesn’t really add more alcohol than a regular bottle of commercial medicine would have in it anyhow.

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