What is Herbal Honey?
Herbal Honey is simply honey that’s been mixed with herbs or infused with herbal properties. Apiculturalists who work with herbal medicines, like author Dawn Combs, offer a wide variety of ways to combine the two, resulting in a complex and delicious array of herbal honey medicines. For the Home Herbalist, there are two simple and quite practical ways to begin your adventure into Herbal Honeys, Electuaries and Infused Honeys.
When you’re making Herbal Honeys, it is best to use honey that’s as raw and local as possible. For some of us, that’s as easy as popping over to the neighbor’s for a cup, but for others honey isn’t as easy to come by. When you’re looking online or reading labels in the stores, look for words like Organic and Raw that indicate that the apiary that produced the honey was well cared-for. Happy, healthy bees make far better medicine than those who are subjected to factory-farming style conditions, including having their combs robbed of more honey than they can stand to lose and being sprayed with a variety of chemicals to force them to produce more honey for the farmer.
Electuaries are essentially honeys that still contain the whole plants with which they’ve been infused. The honey begins to break down the plant’s natural cellular structure, freeing the medicinal properties and preparing them for absorbtion by your digestive system. Because you leave the plant parts in the finished Electuary, they’re most often made with particularly tough plants that taste less agreable, like Willow Bark, Cherry Bark, or Oregon Grape Root. Electuaries are particularly useful for delivering such medicinal plants to picky eaters, including our furred and feathered friends. During Fruit season, Amazon Parrot Kikko refuses to eat any vegetables, which leaves her system unbalanced and leaning toward a bit of yeasty or bacterial overgrowth that manifests in dulled feathers and a rather disagreeable temperament. A little Oregon Grape Root and Burdock Root Electuary
once a week or so through Fruit Season and for another month or so afterward sweetens her disposition considerably while easing her digestive system back into balance.
I generally like to work with powdered herbs when making Electuaries. The more herb you use, the more pill-like your Electuaries will be. When I make them for Kikko, I lean toward a heavy dose of herb so that the results can be rolled into pills she can grasp in one claw. When I’m making Dude Honey, I tend toward a heavier dose of honey so that the resulting Electuary can be spooned into Patrick’s morning Bullet Coffee through the late fall to winter for a tasty dose of yang-bulding medicine.
To Make Electuaries:
- Gather and measure your herbs. If necessary, powder them or chop them as finely as possible.
- Measure the honey into a bowl and add the herbs.
- Mix with a spoon or your hands until the herbs have been well incorporated into the honey.
- If you’re making an herb-heavy Electuary, shape the mixture into pills and set them on a rack or waxed paper to set and dry. You can dust them with an extra layer of herbal powder to help them stick less before setting them to dry. Let them stand at least a day before digging in.
- If you’re making a honey-heavy Electuary, spoon it into a container with a good lid and let it stand at least a day before using it.
- It’s wise to let your Electuaries stand for at least a few days to give the honey a chance to begin breaking into those herbal cells. It won’t harm you to take a taste straight away, but you’ll find the flavors and properties have blended better after a few days or even weeks.
Infused Honeys: Drawing Herbal Properties into Honey
Infused Honeys are honeys that no longer contain the whole plant parts from which they’ve drawn their added medicinal properties. While many herbalists suggest using heat to encourage the plants to release their constituents, heat is generally harmful to the healing properties of honey. Instead, I learned to make Infused Honeys using Dawn Combs’ cold infusion technique. It takes more time, but the results are quite lovely and surprisingly powerful. The hardest part is straining the plant parts from the honey after it’s had time to infuse. I plan out my honey straining so that it coincides with a lovely spot of tea in which the plants I’ve used in my honey will blend nicely. After I’ve strained as much honey from the plant parts as I can, I set them in the bottom of my teapot and add my tea and water. The resulting brew is sweet and special, and generally a wonderful treat for having done my medicine making
tasks that day.
To Make Infused Honey:
- Gather and measure your herbs. I prefer to use herbs that have been chopped roughly rather than powdered or minced herbs.
- Put the herbs into a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and top them off with honey.
- Cover the jar and let it stand on your counter or in a sunny spot as you would a Cold Infusion. Plan to give your honey at least a month to infuse, maybe even two. Stirring your jar is helpful. If your lid is well fitted, you can tip the jar upside down one day then right side up the next every day while it is infusing. This will be enough to get the honey moving nicely.
- When the honey has taken on the scent, color, and flavor of the herbs your infusing, strain the plant parts out and save the honey. I generally use the plants I strain out in tea, like this.
- Infused Honey is rather shelf-stable, even if you’ve used fresh plants in the infusion. With that said, it may be wise in warmer climates to store Infused Honey in the refrigerator or a cool place particularly if you have used fresh plant material. If you have a refractor, you can test the honey to see that the percentage of water in it is lower than 18 percent, and thus shelf stable. Honey with more than 18 percent water content requires refridgeration to keep safely for a longer time.