What is an Oxymel?
The word oxymel is an ancient Greek word based on the Latin word oxymeli. An oxymel is a medicinal mixture of vinegar, honey and herbs. Oxymels were used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Persians (who referred to it as serkangabin)and are still enjoyed in Iran today. Over the last few years, oxymels have been gaining popularity in the west, both as herbal remedies and as cocktail ingredients. They are commonly used to administer herbs that may have an unpalatable taste. Over the last three years, I have been making lots of oxymels, mostly with flowers. There is something about the aroma and visual appeal of floral oxymels that is sumptuously appealing!
Beyond their delightful appearance and smell, edible flowers are packed with nutrients and biologically active compounds. Researchers have identified phytonutrientsincluding antioxidants, polyphenols, carotenoids, flavonoids, anthocyanins, essential oils, dietary fibers, vitamins such as A and C, riboflavin and niacin, and minerals such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and potassium.
Flowers to Use:
Although you can make oxymels out of all different kinds of herbs, this article focuses on floral oxymels. Even though the flowers listed here may fit into more than one type, I have broken them into three main categories: floral, savory and nutritive.
- “Floral” flowers (Ok, that sounds redundant, I know, but try saying it three times fast!) include those flowers with a heady, delicate or perfume-like aroma. Many of these flowers are high in volatile oils, adding to the medicinal benefits and giving the oxymel an amazing smell. Flowers: rose (Rosa spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), clary sage (Salvia sclera), lilac (Syringaspp.), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), elderflower (Sambucus spp.), linden (Tilia spp.), violet (Viola spp.), anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), honeysuckle (Loniceraspp.), Arabian jasmine (Jasmine sambac), lemon flower (Citrus × limon), pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea), garden sage (Salvia officinalis), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), scented geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), anise (Pimpinella anisum)and mullein (Verbascum thapsus).
- Savory flowers tend to have a spicy taste. These oxymels make a great addition to cooking or making sauces or dressings. Flowers: nasturtium (Tropaeolummajus), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), spilanthes (Acmella oleracea), mustard (Brassicaspp.), bergamot (Monarda spp.), rosemary flowers (Rosmarinus officinalis) and dill (Anethum graveolens).
- Nutritive flowers may not have a strong flavor, but they contain high levels of nutrients, particularly minerals. Flowers: red clover (Trifolium pratense), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), calendula (Calendula officinalis), mint (Mentha spp.), dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), chicory (Cichorium intybus), apple blossom (Malus domestica), sunflower (Helianthusspp.), self heal (Prunella vulgaris),chrysanthemum(Chrysanthemum spp.)and squash blossoms (Cucurbitaspp.).
Additional Botanicals can be added in smaller amounts to enhance flavor or add other medicinal actions. Although many herbs and spices have more than one flavor, I have simplified their categories here and listed them in either sweet, savory or bitter categories. Although bitters are excellent for digestion, I reco0mmend going light on them to start, and adding more to appeal to your taste and tolerance.
- Sweet: cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), clove (Syzygium aromaticum), star anise (Illicium verum), nutmeg (Myristicaspp.), allspice (Pimentadioica), sumac (Rhusspp.), cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), elderberries (Sambucus spp.) and coriander (Coriandrum sativum).
- Savory: ginger (Zingiber officinale), garlic (Allium sativum), onion (Allium cepa), peppercorns (Piper nigrum), rosemary leaves (Rosmarinus officinalis), sage (Salvia officinalis), cayenne (Capsicum annuum), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), turmeric (Curcuma longa), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), basil (Ocimum basilicum)and marjoram (Origanum majorana).
- Bitter: orange peel (Citrus sinensis), lemon peel (Citrus × limon), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), gentian (Gentiana lutea), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), milk thistle (Silybum marianum) and angelica (Angelica archangelica).
Warning: Please make sure to properly identify flowers (and all herbs) before you eat them. Growing your own edible flowers is a great way to have access to fresh flowers and to make sure they are clean and unsprayed. If purchasing flowers, look for the word “edible” on the packaging, which indicates the flowers are safe to eat. Especially if you have allergies, make sure to introduce new flowers to your diet in small quantities to be sure they don’t cause an allergic reaction or stomach upset.
Honey: I have been keeping bees for five years now, and I love it! I think honey is made of magic: small insects all working together for a common cause, visiting thousands of flowers throughout the spring and summer to gather nectar. Their tiny wings beat, over and over, dehydrating the nectar into honey. Honey is a gift from the flowers and the bees! I recommend raw, local honey as it contains more pollen, enzymes and other micronutrients. Honey is anti-bacterial, humectant and anti-inflammatory, making it soothing to sore throats and respiratory irritations. It is full of anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Due to risk of botulism, children under one year old should avoid honey.
Vinegar: Although other vinegars are available, I prefer to use organic apple cider vinegar. It aids digestion, contains antioxidants, and may be helpful in supporting immune function. It has been studied for its anti-glycemic effect, making it useful for balancing blood sugar levels. It is antibiotic, antiseptic and soothing to a sore throat. I recommend raw apple cider vinegar, which is high in potassium, phosphorus, and some trace minerals.
Four Ways to Make Floral Oxymels:
All floral oxymels should be made at room temperature (as opposed to cooking as you might with roots or barks). Flowers are delicate and heat can destroy some of the properties such as volatile oils. I never weigh the herbs, but do tend to use different amounts for fresh or dry flowers. With fresh flowers, I use as many flowers as I can pack into a jar and then cover them with either vinegar, honey, or both. With dry flowers, I like to fill the jar about half way full of flowers before adding my honey or vinegar. I generally like to end up with equal parts honey and vinegar in my oxymels, but there are no fast rules. Play with your ratios and see what you like best. Here are the four ways I have made oxymels:
- Infuse the flowers in vinegar for 2 weeks to 1 month, strain and then add honey. This is a great method to infuse nutritive flowers, as vinegar is a wonderful extractor of minerals.
- Two separate infusions: add your flowers separately to honey and to vinegar, infuse each for 2 weeks to 1 month, strain and then mix them together. Although a little more time consuming, this is my favorite method. I like to taste (and use) each infusion separately and also add them together. This can be really informative with different plants. I did this with clary sage flowers and was quite surprised by the results. The honey was bitter and slightly unappealing. The vinegar was amazing, with depth and lots of flavor. I mixed them together, and it is literally the best oxymel I’ve ever made!
- Infuse the flowers into honey, strain and then add vinegar. If infusing fresh flowers into honey, make sure to cover your jar with a paper towel, or fine cloth instead of a lid. You can secure this with a rubber band. This allows the honey to “breathe”, so water from the fresh flowers can evaporate instead of being caught in the jar and possibly causing mold. This is a great method for “floral” flowers, as honey is an excellent extractor of fragrant flowers high in volatile and essential oils. The leftover plant material (also called marc) will still have some honey on it. You can either add some vinegar to this to make extra oxymel or just eat the petals (I like to use mine almost like a jam).
- Mix the herbs, honey and vinegar all together in one jar. This is the easiest method.
You will need:
- Quart canning jars
- Plastic lids or wax paper (to protect metal lids from corroding with the vinegar)
- Honey and vinegar
- Choose your favorite way to infuse your flowers from the 4 options above.
- Make sure all plant parts are submerged in your honey or vinegar so mold does not grow.
- Infuse the herbs for 2-4 weeks.
- Strain through a strainer. The strained herbs can either be composted, or eaten.
- Add either the vinegar or honey (if either have not been added before) and mix well.
- Pour the oxymel into glass jars and store in a cool, dark place. Make sure to use a plastic or cork lid, as metal lids will corrode.
- Shake before using.
How to use oxymels:
- There are so many creative ways to use oxymels!
- Tonic Dosage: As a daily support when you feel well, use 1 tablespoon for adults or 1 teaspoon for kids over 1 year old, 1-3 times a day.
There are many other fun ways to use oxymels. Here are just a few:
- Drink them hot or cold.
- Add them to your tea.
- Serve some, possibly diluted with water or juice, over ice.
- Mix them with soda water, seltzer or mineral water.
- Add them to homemade lemonade.
- Add them to stock or soup.
- Use them as a salad dressing or marinade.
- Add them to juice or water and make popsicles.
- Add them to your favorite alcohol to make a cocktail.
I’d love to hear your ideas about using oxymels! Please leave your comments below.
© Elaine Sheff, Clinical Herbalist, RH (AHG) 2019
About the Author:
The author of several books on herbal medicine and healing, clinical herbalist Elaine Sheff has been passionate about sharing herbal knowledge for over 25 years. Her latest book is Naked: Botanical Recipes for Vibrant Skin and Healthy Hair. Elaine is the Co-Director of Green Path Herb School, located in Missoula, Montana, where she strives to inspire and empower students and clients to remember their connection to the earth, the plants and their own healing process. She is a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and teaches workshops, and at conferences, both nationally and internationally. As a certified Instructor of the Natural Family Planning and Fertility Awareness Methods, Elaine has helped many couples to avoid or achieve pregnancy naturally. She has written numerous articles about her family’s journey with epilepsy and a special needs child. Elaine has written for publications including the Journal of Medicinal Plants and their Applications, Mamalode and AromaCulture magazine. Elaine’s workshops have been featured at conferences including the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, Montana Herb Gathering, Northwest Herb Symposium, Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference, Spokane Herbal Faire, the Ecoexpo, Mountain West Herb Gathering, Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence, and the Pacific Women’s Herbal Conference. You can often find her bent over an herb in her garden or marveling at small flowers in mountain meadows with her husband and sons. If you’d like to learn more about medicinal plants, you can connect with Elaine, and Green Path Herb School via the Green Path Website or through social media: Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram. You can find out more about Elaine and her life work at GreenPathHerbSchool.com.
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