(I am sorry for the lack of posting lately, but the bugs have been busy this flu season and consultations take precedence in my world. I have had more than a few people ask me about how to make an elixir, so I thought I would share this. It was first published in the September/October issue of The Essential Herbal . I will have an article in the upcoming issue, but you have to subscribe to see that one
It is harvest time and we are all busy storing away this year’s bounty. While I am in drying, infusing, and tincturing as well, one of my favorite ways to store my herb harvest is to make elixirs. I first learned about elixirs from Kiva Rose’s blog a few years ago. The idea of making a concoction with minimal amounts of sugar that still tasted good was very appealing to me. I’d seen many recipes for elderberry syrup but they called for so much sugar and high heat; two things I am never comfortable applying to herbs. I am also a large fan of reducing the amount of time I spend standing over a sweltering stove during harvest time.
The basic idea is to infuse dried herbs in a mixture of brandy (or some other tasty alcohol) and raw honey. I’d like to give you exact proportions but a lot of it depends on your sweet tooth and which herbs you decide to use. I generally end up using around 4 oz dried herbs: 15 oz liquid ingredients in a pint jar. How much honey, you use is completely up to you. I’ve seen people use as much as 50% honey, but that is way too sweet for my liking. I use very little honey and more brandy. You will have to experiment to see what combination you like best. I have found it that it works better to dissolve the honey in the brandy before adding it to the dried herbs. Sometimes, I warm the brandy ever so slightly before I mix in the honey to help dissolve the honey. That step probably isn’t necessary, or even desirable, if your honey dissolves without heating. The raw honey I get locally is thick and it really helps. After you have the honey mixed into the brandy, you place dried herbs of your choice in a clean pint jar and pour the mixture over the herbs until the herbs are covered and the jar is full. Cover with a tight lid and let the mixture “brew” for at least four weeks before straining and bottling. You may need to top off the jars a bit the next morning and shake them around a bit from time to time.
Tonic herbs are particularly suitable for elixirs. I’ve never understood why so many herb books recommend bland tonic blends when it is so easy to spice things up a bit. If you are going to sip on something daily, it might as well taste good. Because my taste buds seem to be easily bored, I need variety in my tonics so I play around to come up with different flavors, all the time. I’ve come up with some fun combinations of dried herbs that I like to turn into elixirs and I thought I would share some as a jumping off point.
Remember how an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Well, think how much better that works when you add elderberry, rosehips and anti-microbial herbs to the mix. Remember that it is best to use organic apples dried with the skins on. The good stuff in apples hides in the skin. If you really want to be frugal, you could dry the apple skins you peel for pies and use only dry apple skins.
Apple Spice Elixir
½ cup dried apples
¼ cup true cinnamon
¼ cup dried elderberries
¼ cups dried rose hips
1 tsp dried cloves
Burdock root is a fantastic tonic herb for so many reasons, one of which is being that it contains inulin which reportedly helps balance blood sugar. Recent studies have also found that cinnamon and fenugreek are useful for reducing serum glucose and improving glucose tolerance. I tend to take it really easy on the honey in this elixir, so I am sure to use true cinnamon which is sweeter than others.
Burdock Root Elixir
¼ cup dried true cinnamon
¼ cup Fenugreek Seeds
¼ cup dried orange peels
½ cup dried Burdock Root
Hawthorne is a particularly nice heart tonic herb that is rather uninspiring, as far as flavor goes. I know there are a good many herbalists out there who like to mix it up with wild cherry bark and that is a fine elixir. I’ve a bit of that put by in my herb closet, for evening because it is so relaxing. During the day, I might be more inclined to use one of the following blends:
Spicy Chocolate Elixir
1 dried cayenne pepper
½ cup dried hawthorn berries
¼ cup coarsely ground cacao nibs
In this mixture the cayenne acts to stimulate the circulation, and the cacao nibs will contribute a lot of the wonderful benefits of dark chocolate to the mix.
Chocolate Orange Elixir
¼ cup dried orange peel
½ cup coarsely ground cacao nibs
½ cup dried hawthorn berries
Even though the orange is mostly for flavor in this blend, it still contributes Vitamin C and antioxidants. (Editors note: It is also a good warming bitter so this makes a nice before dinner apertif. )
Now the only question left is how to use your elixirs? I tend to find that herbs work best when you take them in small amounts throughout the day, so I add a dropperful of elixir to mugs of my daily nourishing infusions. My favorite thing to do with an elixir is to use it to jazz up oat straw infusions or red raspberry infusion, which really can be pretty boring when it gets right down to it. I suppose, I might surprise readers by suggesting sipping on booze first thing in the morning, but remember that you getting much alcohol in a such small amounts . In the evening you can sample a bit more heavily, if you are so inclined. I’ve used elixirs to make a weak white Russians with fresh cream or in a glass of wine as an evening night cap. However you chose to use your elixirs, I hope this article has inspired you to give them a try. I would love to hear what you come up with.