Rekindling Herbal Belief

Sometimes I find myself needing to re-establish faith in both my abilities to heal myself and the herbs’ abilities to heal me. Such has been the case over the last couple of months, when I have not really had opportunity to use the herbs for anything in particular. Then, in fairly typical fashion for those who work hard and then take a holiday, I packed up for the Christmas break and promptly came down with a nasty head cold. Not greatly impressed, I immediately resolved to use the experience to re kindle my faith in the herbs and their ability to help me through that bane of most people’s lives, the common head cold. This particular cold manifested as blocked nose, stuffy and sore sinuses, and ominous aches and pains through my whole body that had me worried it would turn into influenza for a day or so there. Here is how I have been treating myself, and as it seems to be working quite nicely, I thought I would share the recipes I have used. This cold kicked in properly on christmas eve and now, on boxing day, it seems to have passed the worst point and be steadily improving.


Rosehips - overlooked for a while in favour of elderberries, but now back in the spotlight again!

As I had totally run out of elderberry syrup (much to my chagrin – I shall be making triple the amount next year!) I instead turned to the rosehip and sloe syrup I made a couple of months ago. I’m pretty sure I already posted the recipe for this earlier in the blog, so I won’t repeat it here unless the recipe is particularly requested. Rosehip and sloe syrup with a slosh of golden bullace infused brandy, made up with plenty of hot water and three cups of the resulting hot drink consumed per day – more if you like – gives your body a much needed boost of vitamin C, really rather important when you are trying to fight off the inevitable winter nasties.

Elderflowers, a real gift during the cough and cold season.

The second prong of my attack – and there were three, how very mythic of me – was to consume at least two cups of the traditional cold and flu tea mix of Elderflower, Yarrow and Peppermint. This is made as follows:

2 Parts Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)

2 Parts Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

1 Part Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Mix them all up thoroughly and add a heaped teaspoon to a cup of hot water. Cover with a small plate and infuse for five minutes (the plate stops the volatile oils escaping – this is quite important, as the oils give the tea half its flavour and a large dose of its medicinal benefit, so its a good idea to keep them in the cup if at all possible!) Drink at least two cups of this tea per day, as hot as you can manage. You can sweeten this with honey or sugar if you like – I did, and it made it a lot more palatable. This blend took care of the aches and slightly feverish tendencies.


Thyme - one of the best cough and cold remedies and one half of the redoubtable Thyem & Liquorice cough syrup.

Lastly, I made up a medicinal herbal syrup. The recipe is below – I found it has been pretty effective so far, and I harbour strong suspicions that if I had not been taking this mix, the cold would have been quite a bit more deep seated than it ended up being.

Cold Syrup

100g Elecampane root soaked overnight

Three heaped tablespoons of Eyebright

2 heaped tablespoonfuls of Elderflower

1 heaped tablespoon of Mullein flowers

1 heaped tablespoon of Thyme

2 inch piece of fresh root Ginger, grated

1 heaped tsp chilli flakes

3 pints of water

Equivalent amount of sugar after simmering and reducing.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) tincture 50mls

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) tincture 30mls

Add at least a half pint of water to the Elecampane root and let it soak over night – this means that much more of the medicinal benefits are released when you simmer it up with more water added in the morning. I found most of the water had soaked into the root when I checked it the following morning. Add the rest of the water, plus the rest of the dried herbs, chilli flakes and grated ginger, then bring to the boil, turn the heat right down and simmer on a low heat for at least a half an hour. Put a lid on the saucepan as you do this – it will keep the volatile oils in. When the herb and water mix has simmered for a good long while and reduced down by about a pint, turn off and leave to cool. Strain out the herbs, put the liquid back into the pan with the sugar and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil again and boil for at least five minutes until it begins to thicken. Don’t make the fatal mistake of taking your eye off it the way I did – this syrup does not smell particularly nice when it boils over, sticks to the ring and burns! Allow the syrup to cool and add the tinctures, stirring thoroughly. Bottle and label. I am currently taking at least 20mls of this three times a day, and I’m convinced that it has stopped this cold turning into a really nasty, long lasting one, especially given my generally run down, tired condition. In case you are curious, Elecampane is a great chest tonic, and while it is not as effective in its dried condition, it still serves as a useful herb for colds, especially for those where it tends to descend onto the chest and turn into nasty chest infections. The Eyebright has an affinity with the sinuses and upper respiratory tract, which is why it was put in, as does the Mullein flowers, which are helpful for the ears. Thyme is an all round cold and cough genius, and Ginger and Chilli are both warming, declogging and stimulating, though not enough to disturb sleep. The amount of both of these that was put in is enough to give a definite sense of warmth but not enough to blow your head off – if you like your remedies to have plenty of kick to them, just up the amount of each that you include, or even add fresh chillis if you have any. Lastly, the Sage is for sore throats and chest infections, and the Coltsfoot is for coughs. All in all – this remedy has been really pretty good thus far, and I’m going to keep hold of the recipe and see if I can improve on it for next time. And I am going to grow plenty of Elecampane next year so that I have fresh root to use instead of dried.

Elecampane flowers - the root of this beauty is great for the chest.

5 thoughts on “Rekindling Herbal Belief

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    1. Hmm it really depends on the syrup! With the elderberry, this particular syrup had only a very little water added to the juice to get the berries to simmer down, then I mashed the whole lot and added the same amount of sugar, warmed it til the sugar dissolved and then boiled the heck out of it for a good while – and then it was stored in the fridge, so it was absolutely fine several months after making it! I think it all comes down to the water / sugar ratio, as the sugar acts as a preservative. Then of course, stashing it in the fridge always helps! 😉 Give me a shout if you need any more info, and I’ll do what I can to help out!

    2. I just wanted to add as well that if you make a syrup using the decoction method with herbs instead of using a little water and lots of juice, make sure you use equivalent amounts of sugar – much less than this and your syrup really won’t keep at all well 😦

  1. I’ve found with most of my syrups that it depends how well you’ve sterilised the bottle you put it into and how you store it. I’ve just handed over a bottle of cough syrup made from marshmallow, hyssop and white horehound to my aunt who had a similar bug over Christmas. It was made in 2008 and had no sign of mould. It also depends whether you evaporate your syrup sufficiently (i.e. down to 1/7th of the original volume) or leave it as more like a cordial (i.e. reduce very little or 50%). Most elderberry syrup recipes don’t ask you to reduce the liquid and I find those go off first, but I’ve still got some in my larder from several months ago.

    Ali – I think I’d cheat with the elecampane root and add the infused honey to the cup rather than do the overnight maceration – but that’s just because I’m lazy – I like the recipe though. Touch wood, so far Chris and I have been ok, despite offspring and nephew sniffing and spluttering for England over the holidays!

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