'A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down' as Mary Poppins said.
Summer brings both sweet honey and fresh, abundant herbs and what would be better than to combine the two than into delicious remedies? Fresh, aromatic culinary herbs work best in honey infusions, passing over their medicinal, scented oils to be preserved in the sugary rich elixir for use the rest of the year round. These honeys aren't just medicinal , they also make an ideal condiment to add to cooking, baking, salad dressings and as a refreshing cordial with fizzy water (let your medicine be your food as they say). The method is very simple once you know how and preserves herbs well.
How much herb? A scattering won't do - you want lots of herbs in the honey, so that the honey is 'full up' and ready to take on the herbal properties.
Which honey? An organic, wildflower honey of course. Find and support a local beekeeper if you can (and can afford it!) but many supermarkets also have a good range.
Vegan? Use edible glycerine instead.
How do you use them? Generally a spoonful as needed like a cough syrup. You can also use them as a sweetener to give an extra herbal boost in infusions, or even add them to homemade facemasks.
Which herbs? - these are a guide to some of the best ones to infuse. Aromatic herbs are all strongly antibacterial.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Antibacterial & antiviral oils with a specific action on the lungs to support tissues and break down mucous in phlegmy coughs.
Sage (Salvia officinalis): Sage honey soothes sore throats. Also very cooling to fevers and menopausal hot flushes.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): Helps to improve memory, stimulates peripheral circulation for improving headaches, cold hands and feet and to strengthen varicose/spider veins.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis): 17th Century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper says this herb 'causes the mind and heart to become merry,' and is used by herbalists for a non-sedating anti-anxiety boost. It also improves memory so great for people studying. TIP: only infuse Lemon balm using method 1 (the slow way), and only overnight: this traps the beautiful lemony taste without extracting the sour tannins which come out later.
Method 1 - slow and gentle
Finely chop your fresh herbs and place in a clean jar. Pour honey over the top. Gently stir with a kebab stick to knock out any air bubbles. Push the herb below the top of the honey, use an object such as glass marbles to weight down if necessary. Leave to infuse in a cool dark place (sunlight will cause it to oxidise) for 1-4 weeks until you are happy with the strength. Strain out the herb and keep the honey in a fresh clean jar. Label and date. Will keep up to 1 year in a cool dark place.
Method 2 - Quick
Place the chopped herbs and honey in a bain-marie (improvise with a pyrex dish suspended over gently heating water, don't allow the bowl and water to touch). Heat gently, stirring occasionally for up to an hour until the honey tastes strongly of the herb. Don't allow to boil. Strain, retaining the liquid and place in a clean jar. Label and date.
Method 3 - Make a succus
Juice your herbs, measure the liquid and mix with equal parts honey. Place in a sterile jar or bottle. Label and date. This won't keep as long as the other honey due to the higher water content but it will last for a couple of months in the fridge. (You could try freezing it in an ice cube tray for longer lasting sweet herbal blasts).
You should discard remedy you have made that has discoloured over time, smells bad or has gone mouldy.
Medicinal aromatic herbs should be avoided in regular and large quantities by those who are pregnant. also see our other guidance about herbal remedies here.