All About Herbal Oxymels
By Tamara Welsh, Happy Herbalist
Latin: ‘oxy’ (acid) and ‘mel’ (honey)
As the above Latin translation suggests, oxymels are medicines where vinegar and honey are used to extract the constituents (plant chemicals) in your chosen herbs. The concept of oxymel dates back to ancient Persian traditions and was used by Hippocrates in medicinal formulations. Due to the simplicity of the process and ingredients, oxymels are a great way to make your own herbal medicines at home.
Because of the pleasant taste of oxymels, traditionally they were used to disguise the taste of very strong herbs such as garlic or the bitter herbs, however any herb can be administered as an oxymel. The use of oxymels these days has waned as many herbalists prefer to use alcohol as a solvent rather than vinegar. This is because alcohol is a more effective solvent (i.e. it draws out the beneficial chemicals in the herbs more readily) and it is also a highly effective preserver. That said, the combination of honey and vinegar in an oxymel works well to preserve the medicine and oxymels are a great choice for those who wish to avoid alcohol, or those that find ethanol containing tinctures and extracts unpalatable.
Often apple cider vinegar is used for oxymels, which boasts a heap of its own beneficial qualities. Vinegar itself is a mild expectorant with honey offering some antimicrobial and demulcent qualities. Together they combine to create a delicious solvent for herbal medicines and are often used to treat respiratory tract infections and congestions due to the demulcent and expectorant qualities of the honey and vinegar. The ratio of vinegar to honey can be flexible. A good place to start is 1:1 vinegar to honey but you may wish to increase the honey content to your liking. Oxymels are not suitable for children under 1 year due to the raw honey.
Because oxymels don’t require any special equipment, they are easy to make yourself at home. To make an oxymel you’ll need the following:
- Herb(s) of choice
- Vinegar (apple cider vinegar works well)
- Raw honey
- Sterilised glass jar with lid
- Mesh sieve and/or cheese cloth and measuring jug
- Sterilised glass bottle for storage
There are a few different methods to create an oxymel, but the simplest method does not involve heating the solvent. Simply combine your herbs with the vinegar and honey in a glass jar and screw on the lid tightly. This mixture is then left to digest for around 2 weeks. Visit it often and agitate the herbs by shaking the jar. After a minimum of 2 weeks you can then strain the mixture through the sieve and bottle for use.
The correct dose of the oxymel will depend on the individual and the resulting strength of your oxymel. A good place to start is 1 teaspoon or 5ml 2-3 times daily, but you may find you need more or less than this depending on your desired effect. If your oxymel contains herbs used to fight an acute infection, you may wish to dose smaller amounts more often, say 3ml 5 times daily. If your oxymel is aimed at a more chronic condition you may wish to dose 1 tablespoon or 15ml once or twice daily for many months.
Oxymels are delicious, so you can take them neat or with a little added water. Oxymels also make great additions to salad dressings or can be used as a mocktail when added to sparkling water. For a warming drink, add your oxymel to boiling water and sip slowly.
It’s important to work with sterilised equipment when making herbal medicines to ensure you avoid contamination with microbes that could cause your medicine to spoil. If made and stored correctly, your oxymel should last many months in a cool dark cupboard. To extend the shelf-life of your oxymel, store it in the fridge in a dark glass/amber bottle. Note the colour, taste and smell of your oxymel after you have made it so you can use your senses to check for spoilage in the future.
Love Thyself Oxymel Recipe
½ cup Schizandra berries
½ cup Damiana
½ cup Rose Petals
Equal parts Apple cider vinegar and raw honey (approx. 250ml of each)
- Clean and sterilise a glass jar that holds approximately 500ml and has a well sealing lid
- Place all herbs into the jar.
- Fill the jar roughly half way with Apple cider vinegar and then to the top with the honey
- Screw on the lid well and give the jar a really good shake.
- Open the lid and fill again with some more Apple cider vinegar and honey so that the liquid reaches just to the top of the jar and all the herbs are submerged.
- Store in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks and then strain into a sterilised glass bottle and store in the fridge.
- For best results, take 1 teaspoon twice daily.