An herbal syrup is a combination of honey and herbal decoctions, herbal infusions, and herbal tinctures. During cold and flu season, I often make one or more batches of cough syrup for my family using this basic procedure. Honey has a wealth of healing properties all on its own, and when combined with the various herbs I use, it makes the medicine more palatable than a spoon full of sugar ever could. One year, my partner remarked he almost wanted to catch a could because the syrup tasted so good.
When possible, I use local, raw, unfiltered honey. Honey that was produced by bees close to home is more likely to contain the balance of properties that will be best suited to my family, but if local honey isn’t available I use what I have. If you’re making an herbal syrup to ease the symptoms of hay fever or other allergies, I strongly encourage you to seek-out local, raw, unfiltered honey so you can draw on the naturally anti-allergenic properties it contains.
The finished syrup will have some alcohol in it if you use tinctures. The alcohol helps to preserve the syrup, which is useful if you are making enough to last for more than a few weeks. I find it best to adjust my recipes from season to season based on the current year’s illnesses.
Choose between decoctions, tinctures, and infusions based on the herbs you intend to use.
Herbal Syrup Making Tutorial
This is a basic procedure, not a recipe. I haven’t included specific measurements but have instead described the process and what to look for as you’re working. For specific recipes using this technique, see The Practical Herbalist Recipes.
Equipment you’ll need to make an herbal syrup:
- a non-reactive pot (or slow cooker)
- a spoon
- a spatula
- a glass jar for storage
Ingredients for making an herbal syrup:
- local, raw, unfiltered honey
- A quantity of herbal tinctures
- A quantity of herbal infusions and/or decoctions
- fresh herbs (optional)
Procedure for making an herbal syrup:
- In a non-reactive pot, heat the honey, herbal infusions and herbal decoctions until to just under a simmer. The goal is to reduce the liquid content and thicken the mixture until it’s a syrup. If you are using fresh herbs, such as cherries, add them now. If you are using fresh flowers, don’t add them until the syrup is just about at the consistency you desire. If you don’t desire the preservative qualities of alcohol in your finished syrup, you can add your tinctures now, too.
- Stir your syrup often and reduce the heat as it thickens so it doesn’t break into a boil.
- When the syrup has reached a consistency you like, pour it off into a glass canning jar or other heat-tempered glass jar to cool.
- When the syrup has cooled, add your tinctures.
- Seal and label the jar.
Storing and Using an Herbal Syrup
Store your herbal syrups in the refrigerator, even if you have added enough tinctures to make-up 25 percent of your final volume. Bacteria loves sugars, so why take chances? I’ve heard herbal syrups can be stored at room temperature, but I live in an area where there are an awful lot of air-born molds and fungi. After seeing a couple of my syrups develop mold after being stored at room temperature, I tried refrigeration. It worked, so there you have it.
A syrup can be preserved more safely for shelf life if you add 1 drop of essential oil per 1 ounce of syrup. It is just one extra step for piece of mind.
For dosage, I generally figure about one to two tablespoons for a 150-pound adult, or one to two teaspoons for every fifty pounds of body weight when I’m calculating for a child.