At it’s purest, an Herbal Syrup is an herbal infusion that’s been sweetened. It can be thin and watery or it can be thick as molasses. In fact, molasses makes a good sweetener, particularly for seasonal allergy formulas and for blends that could use an electrolyte-boost. Molasses has a lot of potassium, one of the minerals we lose when we sweat. From an herbalist’s perspective, each ingredient in a blend ought to offer some supporting or healing properties. That makes molasses or honey a better choice than refined white sugar, but even white sugar can do in a pinch. The primary reason for adding sweetness to the formula is to make it more palatable. From a Traditional Chinese Medicinal perspective, sweetness also adds yin-building properties, but I suspect that principle is founded on use of whole-sugars rather than those from which nutrients and minerals have been stripped. If you have access to unrefined or raw sugar, that might be better choice than refined white sugar, too. However you do it, to make an Herbal Syrup you’ll need to add a sweetener to your brew. The real question is, what herbs most benefit from being taken as a syrup?

Herbal Syrups: Sweet Prevention and Treatment

The two biggest reasons Home Herbalists might reach for an Herbal Syrup are to prevent illness and to treat illness that has arisen. The process for making either is the same, but your choice in herbs wil differ depending on your intention.
As a preventative, Herbal Syrups help us want to take our medicine daily. That’s why so many folk like to make elderberry syrup every fall. The sweetness mixed with Elderberry’s tart and slighty musty flavor makes for a daily treat you can take straight-up or stir into your yogurt, coffee, oatmeal, tea, or drizzle over a cup of fruit and nuts. Schizandra, elderberry, rosehips, and lychi fruit or goji berries make tasty daily tonic syrups. Bitter, astringent, sour, and spicy herbs can also be much easier to take when they’ve been added to an herbal syrup. Garlic comes to mind first as one we rarely think of as being a sweet treat, but garlic syrup is surprisingly tasty, especially when you blend it with other generally savory herbs like Sage, Rosemary, or Thyme.
As a treatment, Mary Poppins was absolutely right…a little sweetness makes it much easier to take your medicine. Indeed, the bitterest most vile brews can become a bit of a treat when you turn them into a strong medicinal syrup. Elecampane, Yarrow, and Mullein make a good syrup for conditions that include a sore throat, fever, and dry cough. If the cough is more wet, you can substitute cherry bark for the mullein. Often, Home Herbalists make their Herbal Syrups to-order when it comes to treating illness. No one formula will work for all conditions. Even the same illness traveling from one family member ot another may require a slightly different formula for each person who contracts it. Often, the symptoms progress through the duration of illness, so knowing how to cook up a quick herbal syrup in small batches as symptoms arise is quite handy. I’ve often made a new syrup every few days for my charges as they progress through a particularly tough cold or flu, ending with one formula that’s robust with nutrition to help rebuild their weakened systems quickly so there’s no recurrance of symptoms.

To Make an Herbal Syrup:

  1. Begin with an Herbal Infusion. Choose the method of infusion that best fits the herbs you intend to use. After you strain it, measure the full volume and set it aside.
  2. Measure the amount of sweetener you want to use with your finished infusion. If you want a thick syrup with a consistency like honey, you will need around twice as much sweetener as infusion and you may need to use heat to blend them. If you intend to use heat, raw sugar or molasses are better choices than honey as heat damages honey’s medicinal properties. If you want a thinner syrup with a consistency more like water or sweet tea, you do not need to use heat to incorporate blend the two. For a thinner syrup, use at least a quarter as much sweetener as you have infusion, so your finished product is at least 25 percent sweetener unless you expect to use it rather quickly.
  3. Combine the Herbal Infusion with the Sweetener as needed for the sweetener and ratio you’ve chosen. Store your finished syrup in a cool, dark place, like the refrigerator. If you so choose, you can add thirty percent alcohol to the finished syrup to increase its preservative power. Herbal Brandy or tinctures can offer additional medicine to your formulation if you choose to do so.

Recipes to Try

Search Syrup at The Practical Herbalist for more tasty Herbal Remedy syrups to try.