Fall! It’s almost here!… The official start to the season is the autumn equinox on September 22nd. I’m sure you can already feel the shift in the air, the different slant of light and the ever-changing colors of the trees.
If you read my blog or newsletters you know that fall is my absolute favorite season. Summer is pretty wonderful, of course, but I have to admit that it always feels like a huge relief when the heat and brightness of the summer sun fade into the cooler, more gentle days of autumn. There is a special sort of beauty that exists only in fall.
In celebration of this season I am compiling some of my favorite, go-to herbal recipes. Some of these are quite simple to make and others are a bit more involved. Read on for the healing benefits of the plants in each recipe. I hope you are inspired to make a few of these herbal concoctions…
May your autumn days be full of beauty and abundance!
SIMPLE ELDERBERRY SYRUP
Elderberry is an important herb for every home apothecary, especially as we enter the colder months of cold and flu season. This syrup is very easy to make, tastes delicious and is one of the best things you can do to support your immune system. It is my go-to potion for sniffles, colds, flu, and anytime I am starting to feel run-down. Take 1-2 tablespoons a day for preventative measures and to keep your immune system going strong. This syrup is also delicious added to teas (or hot toddies!), or as a special garnish on desserts.
An herbal syrup might sound complicated, but really it is just a mixture of:
a strong herbal tea + a sweetener + brandy
- 1 cup dried elderberries
- 1 teaspoon dried ginger root
- 1 tablespoon dried cinnamon chips
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup local honey
- 1/2 cup brandy
1. Create a strong tea (decoction) by slowly simmering the elderberries and spices in the water. Let the water content reduce by half, which may take an hour or more. Keep an eye on the pot and make sure the water does not evaporate too much - if needed, add another cup of water.
2. Strain and discard the herbs from the liquid.
3. Measure your remaining liquid. If you started with 4 cups of water, you should have 1.5 to 2 cups of liquid left. Add 1 cup of honey. You can adjust the amount to your taste, and preference for consistency. (If you want a thicker, sweeter syrup, add more honey.)
4. After adding the honey, cook on very low heat until just combined, usually just a minute or two. When using honey (especially raw honey) you want to be careful with the amount of heat you use.
5. Remove from the heat and let cool. At this point your syrup can be considered finished, but if you would like extra preservative properties for a longer shelf life, add 1/2 cup brandy. Mix thoroughly.
6. Pour into clean glass bottles, label it with the ingredients and date, and refrigerate. The syrup will keep for several months when preserved with brandy and stored in the fridge.
Options: You could also add other spices such as cloves, cardamom or orange peel to this recipe. I also like to add in a small amount of dried rosehips for added Vitamin C content. Use this basic recipe as a starting point and let your creative juices flow!
The combination of honey, vinegar and herbs creates an ancient preparation called an oxymel. This simple medicine dates back to the time of the Greeks and has been used for many different ailments. Today we can make oxymels as a delicious way to preserve our favorite herbs, or to create a medicinal tonic.
The basic method of making an oxymel is to mix together equal parts honey and apple cider vinegar and pour this mixture over your herbs to steep. (Use more vinegar for a thinner oxymel, less vinegar for a more syrup-y oxymel.)
Rosehips are an excellent herb to incorporate into your fall herbal routine as they are chock full of Vitamin C and help our immune systems stay healthy. Use this tart honey-vinegar concoction directly by the spoonful, or add to seltzer water for a refreshing drink. You can also use it as the base for sauces, marinades and salad dressings.
- Apple cider vinegar
- Raw honey
1. Fill a pint sized jar 1/3 full of dried rosehips or 1/2 full of fresh, chopped rosehips.
2. Cover with a vinegar/honey mixture (start with a 1:1 ratio of vinegar: honey). Stir it up to remove air bubbles and cover the top of the jar with a sheet of wax paper before capping if using a metal lid. (Or use a plastic lid to avoid corrosion from the vinegar.)
3. Shake those hips! Shake the jar often to make sure the herb does not clump together. Add more vinegar if necessary.
4. Let infuse for 2 – 6 weeks. Then strain out using a cheesecloth and store in a tightly capped bottle out of direct sunlight.
SPICED ASHWAGANDHA HOT CHOCOLATE
What better way to take your fortifying ashwagandha powder than in hot chocolate?! Make this brew on cold nights -- it is lovely to sip on as you are winding down from the day.
- 2 tablespoons Cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon Ashwagandha root powder
- 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon
- a few sprinkles of freshly grated Nutmeg
- 8 oz. Coconut milk* (or other milk of choice)
- Honey or maple syrup to taste
This recipe makes one serving. Pour the milk into a small saucepan and whisk in the cocoa powder, ashwagandha powder, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat gently over low heat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a mug and add honey or maple syrup to your taste. Enjoy!
*If using full fat coconut milk from a can I usually dilute it down with water to equal parts, i.e. 4 oz coconut milk plus 4 oz. water
HERBAL ROOT CHAI
I love this chai because not only is it completely delicious, it is also very good for you. Dandelion, burdock and chicory roots are incredibly nourishing and make our livers happy. And astragalus is a sweet-tasting, tonic root that supports our immune systems — never a bad thing during cold and flu season. The spices in this recipe add a gentle heat that stimulates both our digestion and circulation. All in all, this root chai helps us to stay toasty and healthy during the cold months.
- 6 cloves
- 6 cardamom pods
- 1 tsp. black peppercorn
- 1-2 tsp. dried ginger root
- 1 tsp. dried orange peel
- 1/2 Tblsp. cinnamon bark (sweet or cassia)
- 1 Tblsp. burdock root
- 1 Tblsp. roasted dandelion root (roasted will yield a deeper, darker flavor)
- 1 Tblsp. roasted chicory root
- 1 Tblsp. astragalus root
Grind together the cloves, cardamom and peppercorn in a mortar and pestle. This will help their flavor be dispersed throughout the whole tea. Combine these crushed pieces with the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Store in a tightly capped glass jar. This will make about 5-6 servings of tea.
To brew the tea, add up to 1 Tblsp. of the chai blend per two cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer covered at for least 20 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on the water level and don't let it evaporate too much. When it is as dark and spicy tasting as you would like, strain out the roots and add milk and honey to taste.
AUTUMN APPLE TEA
This unusual tea blends together some of the brightest notes of summer with our delicious New England fall fruits.
- 1 tablespoon dried lemon verbena leaf
- 1 tablespoon dried (or fresh) sumac berries
- 1/2 tablespoon dried rosehips
- 1 tart apple, cut into pieces
1. Place all the ingredients in a quart-sized jar.
2. Cover with freshly boiled water and let steep for 10 - 20 minutes.
3. Strain out the herbs and add raw honey or maple syrup to taste. Drink cool or warm.
MUGWORT INFUSED VINEGAR
Mugwort is one of my favorite herbs, full of healing on several levels. It is contains many minerals and vitamins and its bitter taste stimulates the digestion. I love to use this vinegar on roasted vegetables or as a salad dressing. I also simply take it by the spoonful!
- Apple cider vinegar
1. In a pint sized jar, add 1.5 cups chopped fresh mugwort leaves and stems. (If using dried mugwort, add just 3/4 cup.)
2. Cover the herb completely with apple cider vinegar, until the liquid reaches to nearly the top of the jar.
3. Stir with a spoon or chopstick to remove any air bubbles.
4. Place a sheet of wax paper over the top of the jar and then cap tightly with the lid. (The wax paper prevents the vinegar from corroding the lid.)
5. Let steep for 4 to 6 weeks, if you can bear to wait that long! Taste at intervals to see if the flavor is to your liking. When ready, strain out the mugwort through a fine sieve.
6. Place the remaining liquid in a dark colored, air-tight bottle and label. The vinegar can be left at room temperature if used within a few months. For a longer shelf life, store in the refrigerator.
Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world. She teaches seasonal herbal classes and is the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference. Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.
This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.