When learning how to use herbs, there are a few important preparations that you need to know. Salves, tinctures, elixirs, syrups, and infused oils are all easy herbal preparations that you can make yourself. But here’s one that you might not be as familiar with: herbal oxymels.
An herbal oxymel is an herbal vinegar with honey. It’s a wonderfully sweet-sour medicine that actually tastes pretty good. The term oxymel comes from a Latin word meaning “acid and honey”.
Herbal oxymels are especially helpful for respiratory illnesses, but they can have other uses as well. It just depends on the herbs you put in it! That’s what makes herbal medicine so beautiful and powerful. You can customize your preparations to what your body needs.
In order to understand herbal oxymels, you need to understand herbal vinegars. Herbal vinegars have been used for centuries, before distilled alcohol was used commonly. Herbal vinegars were made historically to preserve the herbs that the people harvested. This made it easy for the “common folk” to use herbs year-round.
Herbal vinegars, medicinally, are not as strong or as potent as tinctures. Vinegar is excellent at extracting the vitamins and minerals of an herb, whereas alcohol is better for extracting the medicinal qualities. But there are some people who, for one reason or another, choose not to use alcohol for their herbal preparations.
Since herbal vinegars aren’t as medicinally potent as herbal tinctures, the dose is usually higher. A typical dose of an herbal vinegar is 2-3 teaspoons, up to five times a day.
Some people like to use herbal vinegars as a salad dressing. You could take the vinegar straight-up, or dilute it in a tea. If you find the taste too sour for your liking (as lots of people do!), you can add some honey. This is the basic premise of an herbal oxymel.
If you have a complicated relationship to alcohol, or are making a preparation for children to take, an herbal vinegar might just be what you’re looking for. Some people have concerns about taking vinegar on a regular or daily basis. If you are on medications, or have issues with low potassium, you should check with your doctor about the safety of using vinegar regularly.
How to make an herbal vinegar
Dried herbs work best in an herbal vinegar. Dried herbs are more concentrated and more potent. Plus, any moisture in fresh herbs can increase the likelihood of mold.
Apple cider vinegar is the best vinegar to use, as it has its own beneficial properties, and is definitely more tasty than white vinegar.
The standard formula of an herbal vinegar is 1 part dried herb to 7 parts vinegar. But you don’t have to be exact! That’s another beautiful thing about herbal remedies. You can make them stronger or weaker, depending on what your needs are.
You’ll want to use a sterilized glass jar to make your herbal vinegar. And make sure you put a layer of wax paper over the jar opening before adding the lid. Vinegar has a tendency to rust metal.
Fill the jar approximately 3/4 of the way with your dried herb. Then fill it with your vinegar. Cover tightly, shake, and sit in a cool, dark place. Allow it to macerate for 2-4 weeks, shaking daily (if you remember to!).
At the end of the maceration time, strain the herbs out of the vinegar (you can put these in your compost!). Be sure to keep the wax paper between the vinegar and the lid during storage as well.
Your herbal vinegar should have a shelf life of about 6 months, or longer if you can keep it in the refrigerator.
An herbal oxymel is basically an herbal vinegar with the addition of honey. An oxymel is basically a sweet and sour syrup. It contains the herb or herbs of choice, vinegar, and honey. Raw honey is always best.
Herbal oxymels are particularly helpful in treating respiratory illnesses. Honey has been known to reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes, and help break up and expel mucus. The acids in vinegar also help to cut through the mucus, prevent bacterial growth, and helps to clear stuffy noses.
Combining these two powerful natural ingredients with herbs that are helpful for respiratory distress is a wonderful way to treat colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Expectorant herbs are especially useful in this herbal preparation. You can learn more about expectorant herbs in my post on herbal actions.
How to make a traditional herbal oxymel
The traditional method of making an herbal oxymel is very similar to making an herbal vinegar.
Fill your sterilized jar about 3/4 of the way with dried herbs. Pour honey over the herbs, then vinegar. A typical ratio of honey and vinegar is about 1/3 of the jar of honey, and 2/3 of the jar of vinegar. But this is also very flexible. If you want a sweeter syrup, you can do up to half and half.
You’ll still want to use a piece of wax paper under the lid to prevent corrosion.
This mixture will be a little harder to shake, so you might have to stir it. As with the herbal vinegar, sit in cool, dark location for 2-4 weeks, shaking or stirring every day (if you remember better than I do!). At the end of the maceration time, strain the herbs out of the mixture, and put the wax paper and lid back on.
Your herbal oxymel should be kept in a cool location or the fridge. Since an oxymel has the added preservative qualities of honey, your shelf life will be about 9 months to 1 year.
Making a “quick” herbal oxymel
If you need your herbal oxymel sooner than the 2-4 weeks in the traditional method, you can make a “quick” oxymel.
For a “quick” oxymel, you combine the herbs and vinegar in a non-reactive pot (think stainless steel, ceramic, glass, or enamel cookware). Heat to a low boil, and simmer for 20 minutes. Strain the herbs, and pour the mixture into your desired sterilized jar. When the mixture is warm but not hot, add the honey and stir.
And voila! Your herbal oxymel would now be ready to use in about an hour, versus 2-4 weeks.
Take your oxymel by the tablespoon, or diluted in tea. A typical dosage would be 1-2 tablespoons each, up to 5 times a day.
Suggested herbs for an herbal oxymel
There are many herbs that you can use in an herbal oxymel, but like I said before, the best herbs to use are expectorant herbs. Here are some of the most common herbs that are suggested for oxymels.
- Thyme – expectorant, immune boosting, antiviral, antibacterial, excellent for sore throats, coughs (even whooping cough), and bronchitis
- Sage – antibacterial, soothes sore throats, dries up runny noses, expectorant, drying (do not use when nursing or pregnant)
- Oregano – antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, great for coughs
- Bee balm – antibacterial, helpful for sore throat, coughs, and fevers
- Elderflowers – diaphoretic (induces sweating to help with fevers), immune boosting, decongestant, helpful for sinusitis, colds, flu, and bronchitis
- Nettles – anti-inflammatory, high in nutrition, helps with allergies, wonderful tonic herb
- Raspberry leaves – helps with nausea, supports healthy menstruation, good tonic herb for women
- Peppermint – carminative, good for nausea, gas, digestion, and bloating,
- Ginger – anti-inflammatory, digestive aid, good for nausea, helpful in preventing and treating colds and flu
My favorite herbal oxymel combination is thyme and sage. These two herbs together help loosen up and expel mucus, making it an excellent remedy for hacking, congested coughs.
Closing thoughts on herbal oxymels
Herbal oxymels are a wonderful addition to your home apothecary. The balance of sweet and sour makes it a soothing medicine that most children won’t even fuss over!
Have you tried making an herbal oxymel? What are your favorite herbs to use?
Please note: I am not a doctor or a certified herbalist. Please do your own proper research, and if you have any outstanding health concerns, please consult your doctor before trying any herbal remedies.
For more information on using herbal remedies to keep your family healthy, you should definitely check into this book: