A syrup is very simply a sugary mixture, and if you add herbs to it, it is a herbal syrup! Sugar is a preservative ingredient so syrups can be a good way of preserving fresh herbs to take later on when they are no longer in season.
When would I take them?
In herbal medicine syrups are commonly used to make more bitter medicine taste better, or to make herbal medicine appeal to children. They can be a great way of encouraging somebody to use herbs as medicines by giving them something delicious but also beneficial to take. The bonus of making syrups is that you can also use them as an ingredient in your cooking, just for their flavour – try putting them on pancakes, ice cream, in refreshing summery drinks, or in a warm winter tea.
So, how do I make one?
The wonderful thing about syrups is that they are really simple, and there are endless variations you can make once you are comfortable with how it is done. The essence of it is making a herbal sugary solution, which you can do with water and either sugar, honey or other syrups like date syrup, maple syrup or birch syrup. Then you add herbs to the mix at different stages depending on how delicate your chosen herbs are. See our Warming Winter Syrup post for an example
Some more syrupy suggestions
Thyme and liquorice syrup – for coughs and sore throats
Sea buckthorn syrup – for an immune boost and endless health!
Rosehip syrup – for colds and boosting the immune system
Marshmallow syrup – for sore throats and general deliciousness
Peppermint syrup – for digestion, and cocktails
Elderflower syrup – for colds, flu and fevers, and refreshing cordial
Chamomile syrup – for digestion, and relaxation
Oat syrup – for calming the nerves
You can try making your own herbal honeys too – just add powdered herbs to honey
A note on preservation
As mentioned earlier, sugar is a preservative, but you only make a truly preservative syrup if you use the right concentrations of sugar. This is because sugar is a carbohydrate, so when mixed with water, it provides food for tiny micro-organisms to feed on and grow. This can lead to the growth of moulds and yeasts.
However, as the concentration of sugar increases, there is less ‘available’ water for these organisms to grow in. A sugar syrup needs to reach saturation to be a totally effective preservative that you don’t need to store in a fridge and which may keep ‘indefinitely’ on your shelves.
Pharmacists have discovered the perfect sugar to water ratio for this –
85gm of white, refined sugar to 47ml of pure water.