Making and Using Herbal Honeys
I wrote this article for my 2008 herbal honeys class, then later put it on my blog that year. Much to my amazement, that blog post was cited in a German patent application a few years later!
Finished rose-petal honeys
Here I’ve both added some recipes, updated the article and included a couple of short videos.
Honey is an excellent food and medicine all by itself. It heals wounds and burns. The conventional medical community uses it for treatment of burns and is now using Manuka honey for the treatment of MRSA.
Unlike vinegar, which mainly extract the minerals of the infused herb, honey extracts the medicinal properties and water of the herb as well as much of the flavor. As the honey essentially dehydrates the herb material you’ll notice that the herb becomes crispy when you strain the preparation. The desiccative action is also how honey contains and kills bacteria. It dehydrates the bacteria, and in the case of aerobic bacteria, honey cuts off the air, too.
Honey itself is a potent medicinal. Its uses as a wound dressing go back to prehistoric times. We have written records of the ancient Egyptians using honey for dressing wounds. Most recently science and the medical community have verified honey’s antibacterial and antiseptic properties. Honey acts in several different ways to kill and contain bacterial. It draws water out of bacterial cells through osmosis, is acidic enough to kill certain types of bacteria and also contains hydrogen peroxide. Doctors have started using honey to treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and severe burns with honey.
Honey is also a nutritious food. In Healing With Whole Foods the author states “All types of honey, both raw and heated, work naturally to harmonize the liver, neutralize toxins, and relieve pain.” (p. 191). Aside from containing glucose, fructose, and other carbohydrates, honey also has several antioxidants, Vitamin C, B Vitamins and trace minerals. Honey may even contain naturally-occurring probiotics. It’s an excellent preservative, too – edible honey has even been found in the tombs of pharaohs!
Many people feel that honey is best unheated and unfiltered, or that special honeys, like Manuka honeys, are the best (it has been studied the most scientifically). I’m personally a proponent of local honey.
How to Make an Herbal Honey
Making an herbal honey is easy. Depending upon what plant material you’re using you may or may not need to chop it. I chop stalky/leafy plants like lemon balm, mint, motherwort or yarrow; and fresh roots like ginger. I use rose petals and fresh berries whole. Elderberry honey is amazing!
Equipment: Chopstick, Jar (any size) & lid Knife (if you need one), Cutting board (if you need one), Labels & pen/Sharpie
Honey, preferably local (I find it most helpful if it is runny)
Fresh herb of your choice (you could try a dry herb, if you wish – I have not): lemon balm, rose petals, elderberries, mints...these are all some of my favorites.
Cut enough fresh herb to fill your jar. Chop fairly fine and put it into your jar.
Fill jar with honey, poking and stirring with the chopstick to get all the air bubbles out. Make sure your plant matter is fully covered with honey.
Cap your jar and label it with the herb and date made. Check it in a day or two and add more honey if necessary. Let sit for 6 weeks in total and then your honey is ready to eat!
The infused honey can be strained or you can eat the herb, too. It’s fine if it crystallizes also. To de-crystallize the honey, put the jar in a pot of water on the stove on low. It will take a while, so keep an eye on it. The warmth of the water will thin out the honey.
Ways to Use Your Herbal Honey
Eat it by the spoonful (medicinal purposes or just because it tastes good!)
Spread it on toast/bagel/muffin with or without the herb
Use as a sweetener in an herbal syrup
Sweeten your tea or use it as an instant tea: one tablespoonful to a cup of hot water. I especially like to do this with lemon balm or rose infused honey. Soooo good!
Use the herbal honey as the sweet part of a dressing.
Other Honey Recipes
My Nan’s Cough Syrup
Bourboun whiskey, opt.
Chop onion, put on a plate, cover with honey & stir. Cover with another plate. Leave out for at least four hours or overnight. Take the juice that results. Dose is 1 tsp for an adult. And, seriously, this is what my grandma used, along with the addition of bourbon whiskey, of course!
Another Cough Syrup Recipe from herbalist Heather Nic An Fleicher
1/3 cup Garlic honey
2/3 cup Lemon balm vinegar
Mix together & use at a rate of 1 TBS per cup of hot water for cold & cough relief (adult dosage). Very warming.
Lemon-Honey Cold Relief
Juice of ½ lemon
Honey to taste (plain or herbal honey)
Pinch of sea salt
Lemon balm or Echinacea tincture
Hot rosehip tea as the base instead of hot water
Juice the lemon into a mug (12 ounce mug works best). Add honey to taste. I add a lot; I like this sweet! Add the optional ingredients and fill with hot or boiling water.
This is really great if you feel like you’re getting a cold or already have one. It’s very hydrating as well as comforting and gives you a shot of Vitamin C (from the lemon) and all those good things from the honey. It’s best taken just before bed. If you use an herbal honey, I’d recommend lemon balm, elderflower, ginger or elderberry honey for the antiviral properties as well as flavor.
Garlic Honey - ready in 24 hours
Unpeeled garlic cloves
Stuff your jar with the unpeeled garlic cloves & then add the honey to cover. Put a lid on the jar & put the jar on a plate. It will ooze somewhat. This is ready in 24 hours. It’s yummy by itself but is also good for colds, flus, coughs, etc. Dosage is about a tablespoon for an adult. Don't overdo it, however. Too much garlic can cause nausea.
You can make an antiviral gingerroot honey by using fresh ginger instead of garlic. Cover the ginger thoroughly but leave some space at the top of the jar. It may foam.
1/3C elderberry vinegar
2 TBS elderberry-infused honey
½ tsp Dijon style mustard
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (opt)
Approx.. ¾ C olive oil
Put all ingredients into a half-pint Mason jar and shake. This makes a delightful sweet-and-tangy dressing.