We've come to that glorious, golden end of summer. The days are growing a little shorter, the nights a little colder and quieter. The fields are brimming with goldenrod, bright yellow like sunlight shooting up from the ground in one final blaze.
The garden is still thriving, too, but things are slowing down. Now is the time to collect that bounty and set it aside it for the long winter ahead.
Around this time of year, I love to infuse some of my garden herbs into honey or vinegar; it's one of the ways I try to capture the vibrant, precious energy of summer and make it last through the cold months.
A drizzle of rose petal honey in the depths of January is a like a shard of sunlight breaking into your spirit on those bleak, inhospitable days. And the first time you feel the tingle of that November sore throat creeping up, you'll thank yourself for making a delicious, warming oxymel from the fresh sage that grew so strong in the August sunlight.
The recipes below operate on the same basic principle; herbs are steeped in a menstruum, such as alcohol, water, vegetable glycerine, or in this case honey or vinegar, to extract and preserve the flavors and medicinal properties of a plant. I love using honey and vinegar because it makes it that much easier to incorporate nourishing, health boosting herbs into my diet. Plus, both honey and apple cider vinegar have their own set of health benefits even before the herbs are added.
To make an herbal honey, fill a jar with roughly chopped fresh herbs (a loose pack is best), or about 1/4-1/2 of the way with dried herbs, and then fill almost to the top with honey, making sure the herbs are covered. Use something clean to stir the plant material in and release any air bubbles from the bottom (a chopstick will work great for this).
Cap, and let the honey sit for about a month, flipping/shaking occasionally before straining out the herbs (if you want to just leave the herbs in, that's fine too...the flavor may get stronger over time, so just make sure it doesn't get overpowering! A little lavender can go a long way...).
My favorite herbs to use in herbal honey are rose petals, sage, peppermint, lavender, goldenrod, rosemary, or anise hyssop.
Because you're making something really special here, try to find the best honey you can. Treat yourself! Raw, local honey is ideal - it's delicious, and it has the most health benefits.
When your honey is ready, you can enjoy it on toast, stir it into hot water for an instant herbal tea, add it to mixed drinks, or just grab a little spoonful for yourself as a treat.
For an herbal vinegar, the same method and steps apply as for the honey; simply fill a jar with the fresh herbs of choice, or 1/4-1/2 of the way with dried herbs, and cover with vinegar. I like to use good quality, unpasteurized organic apple cider vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 4-6 weeks, then strain and enjoy.
Herbal vinegar is delicious mixed with a little olive oil as a dressing for salads. For a bone building, mineral rich vinegar, I like to add a mixture of nettle, raspberry leaf, and mugwort. Herbs like sage, rosemary, white pine, dandelion, red clover, and violet leaf are excellent and have their own range of health benefits, too. Experiment to find out what you like!
Now that you have delicious herbal honeys and vinegars, you can put them together to make an oxymel.
Mixing honey and vinegar? Sounds kinda odd, I know, but it's a very old, weirdly delicious folk remedy that helps to warm you up, boost immunity, and knock out colds and flu. I like to take my oxymels by the spoonful or use them as a dressing on salads.
The most well known oxymel is probably fire cider, a spicy-sweet, immune-boosting, cold-fighting concoction. I've written about how to make it here.
A spoonful of fire cider is the gold standard when it comes to boosting health during the winter, but the taste is certainly not for everyone. An oxymel made from honey and vinegar infused with warming herbs like sage and rosemary will have a beneficial effect too, without the intense, spicy zing of fire cider.
Of course, there's nothing saying you need to use warming herbs, either. You could make an oxymel from a vinegar or honey infused with something sweet and cooling like blackberries, hibiscus, wild violets, plantain, or whatever herb you have on hand that strikes your fancy.
To make an oxymel, all you have to do is mix together your infused honey and vinegar. The ratio of honey to vinegar is highly subjective, so I suggest starting with a smaller amount of honey (maybe at a ratio of 1 part honey to 4 parts vinegar) and working your way up to whatever tastes good to you. I tend to like a 1:1 ratio myself.
What I love about herbal and folk remedies like this is that they're really simple and accessible; just about anyone can take fresh or dried herbs and make these preparations. For just a small effort now, you can enjoy the gifts of the garden long into the dark winter.
Have fun, experiment with some delicious honeys and vinegars, and enjoy these last sunlit days of summer.
**Of course, always do your own research when it comes to plants. Before you try a new herb, take a minute to learn about it; make sure it will work for you, find out what parts of the plant to use, and how best to prepare it. All information herein is strictly educational, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Never give honey to an infant under one year of age.**