During January I spent a lot of time creating herbal curative syrups for friends & neighbors laid low by colds and flu. Dark, rich, fragrant, floral and berrylicious, each was brimming with herbs, blossoms and berries that help chase off nasty viruses, fight back bacteria, restore depleted energies, and positively rejuvenate our cells!
I love every part of making these syrups. The basic process is always the same (you can find the basic recipe here) but from heading outside to harvest the wild elements on offer in nature’s pharmacy, to choosing complementing medicinal, culinary herbs, infused honeys and booze from my home apothecary & pantry, to the long hours of stirring and tasting over the boiling pot and adding a little dash of this and more of that – each one is unique, shaped by the plants, season, specific intention and of course, inspiration.
Containing tonic herbs, berries, roots, and blossoms (once the stuff of alchemical recipes and longevity elixirs) syrups are created by extracting and preserving the nutrients and medicinal properties of plants in decoctions sweetened and preserved with sugar, honey, alcohol. Today many of the plants used in traditional herbal syrups are the subject of intense research in pharmacology due to their remarkable healing and anti-aging properties. Needless to say their “extracts” are sold back to us in pricey supplements and drugs.
Which is why I call these syrups “magic-ceuticals”. Because as any wise woman knows, crafting truly healing medicine goes beyond chemicals and compounds. Every plant contains its own vital energy or natural intelligence, and it was Cowichan medicine woman and ethnobotanist Della Rice Sylvester who taught me the following principles of medicine making which I still follow today. And it goes roughly like this: begin with a salutation or greeting to the land, set a specific healing intention, then let mother nature and intuition guide the rest.
Begin with paying attention to what is seasonal. The energies that flow through the plants and landscape flow through our bodies as well, so the very herbs, foods and medicines we need to thrive are those growing all around us. For example with the heavy rains of spring and fall, licorice fern begins to grow in thick abundance. This damp dank weather sets the stage for colds, congested lungs and bronchial infections – and liquorice fern root’s ability to cleanse and support the respiratory system is the perfect timely remedy. (I’ll be doing a post on the many culinary uses of licorice fern soon!)
Pay attention to the energy of the plant. Each plant has it’s unique qualities & abilities and these can change season to season. Learning to see and listen deeply is important in understanding why we need certain plants and plant medicines at different times. And sometimes knowing which plant to harvest is as simple as just watching. Della advises that the special plant you need “will catch your eye, you will notice it – it may even move without wind to get your attention.”
So this particular syrup contains what was both abundant and thriving in my local winter landscape and those plants that “called” to me. The evergreens (grand fir & juniper needles) form the base with their uplifting and calming fragrance – and conifers contain more flu fighting polyprenols you can shake a stick at.
Plenty of hawthorn berry went in because they were still plentiful, ruby red and luscious on the branches. Used in herbal magical traditions for protecting, restoring and strengthening the heart, hawthorn's chemical constituents are today being extracted for more than heart medication. Sold in longevity supplements, pharmaceutical research suggests hawthorn berry extract can increase telomere activity – the holy grail of anti-aging. Hmmn… it a coincidence that the fairies were immortal and their sacred tree was hawthorn?
Left to right: Hawthorn Berry, Cottonwood Buds, Usnea
I added a few pieces of licorice fern root for its sweetness and ability to support and cleanse the respiratory system, usnea (that antiviral extraordinaire) because it just “called”, and about half a cup of cottonwood buds shaken down by a recent windstorm. Sticky, resiny and oh so perfumey, cottonwood buds are both energizing and grounding. Plus their anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make them a great natural aspirin for headaches and sore muscles.
Back home I was inspired to add the following medicinal herbs, dried blossoms and spices. First in was a heaping serving of the soothing sensuality of rose. With more antioxidants than green tea, they make an excellent tonic and mood lifter for fatigue, anxiety and the blues.
Left to right: Rose petals & elderberries, Hyssop, Juniper Berry Sugar
Then about a 1/2 cup of dried elderberries (another antiviral flu fighter) went in with the dried hyssop I had been saving since summer for just this occasion – its use as an antiviral and expectorant to ease colds, coughs, and congestion. Next there was a few slices of warming spicy ginger, the rinds of 3 organic oranges, 1 tsp each of cinnamon, cardamom, allspice. Finally after boiling this down to a lovely decoction, I added infused grand-fir honey, juniper sugar syrup and rose brandy to thicken, sweeten and preserve.
The result is a fortifying preventative tonic, a healing remedy, a life-extending elixir, and a yummy warming evening tipple to take whenever you’re sickly or feeling run down. I love to mix them in sparkly water and teas as well. And I’m sure it will do just the trick for my sickly neighbors and friends. So again, if you want to craft your own magic-ceutical syrup – you can find the basic process here. Just remember to let mother nature and your intuition guide & inspire you! Magic is at hand!
P.S. If you're interested in receiving seasonal samples of some of these tonic syrups they are a Patreon Reward!