Old Ways Herbal: Juliette Abigail Carr, RH (AHG)

Women & Children's Herbal Clinic, Vermont Herb School, & Ramblings on Family Herbal Wisdom


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Oxymels: Love in the Medicine

Oxymels: Love in the Medicine

Oxymels are one of my absolute favorite remedy forms.  There’s something about the sweet tang of an oxymel that seems to embody the love and heartfelt good wishes of the medicine maker, as well as the complexities of caring for each other.  They are delicious, versatile, high in a wide variety of medicinal constituents, and I can generally get them into any client–from the world’s crankiest toddler to my fussiest “…but it tastes weird” clinical client.  This delicious, nutritious medicine is a mineral-rich digestive aid, in addition to being full honey’s anti-inflammatory, wound healing, probiotic, and immune-boosting properties, as well as the medicinal properties of whatever herbs you used.

Any combination of honey and vinegar medicines is an oxymel, including fire cider and herbal vinaigrette.  There’s no wrong way to do this.  Following is my preferred method after years of puttering and experimenting.  I find that combining gently heated honey and raw vinegar gives me the perfect balance of effectiveness and palatability, but find your own kitchen magic and do what works for you.

I usually use equal parts honey and vinegar if everything tastes good.  If one of the herbs is especially bitter, I may infuse it in the vinegar and use half as much.  Sometimes I’ll use less vinegar if I want less of those particular herbs, as I have a pretty solid stash of both infused honeys and infused vinegars in my apothecary, so I’m often just mixing together existing creations.

My favorite herbs for oxymels are fragrant flowers and herbs, including rose, lemon balm, lilac, bee balm, thyme, and garlic.  I also really like using herbs with primarily water-soluble ingredients (more info here) like borage, as those constituents extract and preserve really well in vinegar.

  1. Infuse half your herbs in honey, instructions here
  2. Turn the other half of your herbs into a folkloric tincture using vinegar, instructions here
  3. Combine honey and vinegar in a glass jar or pretty bottle and shake vigorously
  4. Label with ingredients and date.  Store for years in a cool, dry place.

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Folkloric Tinctures and Infused Vinegars

This article is part of the series “Basic Recipes for Kitchen Witches,” which is in response to students’ requests for me to post recipes online.  The goal of these articles is to give you the how-to-ness, the essential mechanics of creation,  as a basis for your own future creativity.  You can let your little light shine all on your own from there.

From an accessibility standpoint, folkloric tinctures are the best thing ever.  There’s no need for measuring and weighing and doing arithmetic–and you don’t have to study the intricacies of weight-to-volume tinctures to make something truly fabulous.  Provided the plants you’re tincturing aren’t poisonous in any dose, you’re good to let your kitchen scale gather dust while you experiment to your heart’s content.

This is my favorite method for making infused vinegars: folkloric tinctures using vinegar instead of alcohol.  I like using apple cider vinegar raw because it’s almost impossible to heat it and maintain all the awesome probiotic magic, but some people prefer making a vinegar reduction when they infuse vinegars.  I have great results that yield strong, complex medicines using this method, so I see no reason to boil vinegar in a misery of stinging steam, but please make your magic where you find it.

That being said, if your plants are poisonous at all, you could potentially make someone really sick–so be sure your medicines are benign.  Dose-dependent medicines should not be made into folkloric tinctures because there’s no way to be sure of the medicine’s strength and concentration.  Also, you can’t replicate the medicine from batch to batch.  So, with those warnings in mind, here follows a basic recipe for a basic tincture.

  1. Fill a glass jar with finely chopped herbs
  2. Cover with the alcohol, vinegar, or glycerine of your choice
  3. Clearly label with plant, date, moon phase, harvest location, etc.  Cover label with packing tape!
  4. Let sit for 6 weeks or more in a cool, dark place, shaking regularly
  5. Strain plant matter out of tincture and squeeze strained herbs between 2 plates or in a potato ricer to extract the last of the tincture
  6. Store in a clearly labeled glass jar or bottle in a cool, dark place

A word on alcohol choice:

Since we’re intentionally not concerning ourselves with solubility here, you’re free to do whatever you want with the myriad choices of alcohol in the world.  (That said, if you’re going to use grain alcohol, organic or otherwise, please consider making weight-to-volume tinctures with it because otherwise you’re just pouring your money down the drain with your liver function.)  I’ve found in my classes that there seems to be two ways folks react to the announcement that they can use whatever they want: half of you reach for the bottom shelf, plastic bottle vodka, and the other half reach for the certified organic…vodka.  I see where you’re coming from with this, I really do: vodka is cheap, it has very limited flavor, and it’s also cheap and relatively flavorless.  In a lot of circumstances I prefer flavorless alcohol for tincturing because taste is an important part of medicine: phytochemicals trigger brain activity which in turn triggers physical responses like salivating or increasing metabolic rate.  Like you, I don’t want to obscure the herbs in the alcohol.  However, there’s as much culinary alchemy in successful tincture making as there is nerdy plant science, so I challenge you to branch out from the blank canvas of vodka and consider the ways different flavors of alcohol can enhance the alchemy of medicine making.  Brandy makes a lovely complement to warming tinctures, and gin (a tincture itself) heightens cooling traits.

In the near future I’m hoping to write an article on this subject, but for the time being, start there and experiment yourself–I think you’ll be surprised with your success.