HEALING AND HERBS
Medicinal Honeys – Putting the Sweet into Herbal Therapy
Shi Yao Lian, Practitioner Buddha’s Alchemy
May 2, 2017
That time of year is upon us again. My favourite season for wildcrafting some of the most beautiful native herbs in our area. Soon, I will be off to check on how the hawthorn and wild rose stands are coming along. It was this time last year that we took in a bountiful harvest. I’m giving it an extra smidge of time this year as the winter was long.
I am particularly excited about harvesting wild rose. Wild rose makes the most heavenly honey that I have ever tasted. When most people think of herbal therapy, they imagine having to choke down bitter or not so pleasant decoctions, teas, and tinctures. Sometimes this is true, although the effect is usually always worth it. But I have discovered there is a sweet side of herbal medicine that is very effective for certain maladies. In fact, it is hard to keep a stock of medicinal honey on hand for those occasions at my house. They taste so good that they become a regular “condiment’ for tea, toast, and other indulgences, and before I realize it, my stock has vanished!
I am going to tell you what my favourite medicinal honeys are, how to make them, and how to use them. But first, a quick look at the benefits of honey itself.
Honey is one of nature’s rather luxurious medicines. Who would imagine that medicine could taste this good? Honey is widely recognized as being a powerful antimicrobial against bacteria, viruses, and fungus. It strengthens immunity and is a wonderful demulcent for adding moisture to any dry ailment. It reduces pain and promotes faster healing of tissues. It alkalizes the body’s pH, soothes digestive upsets and regulates the bowels. It has been used to assist in eliminating parasites from the bowels. The medicinal attributes of honey go on and on. You can read more about its benefits in many articles and studies, and there are a wealth of them here.
I use locally produced honey that is unpasteurized and is collected from unsprayed areas. Health Canada states that neither pasteurized nor unpasteurized honey is to be given to small children as there is a risk of botulism contamination that an infant/toddler would not have developed immunity against. It recommends children be over 1 year to eat honey. Please do your own research if you have children.
Photo of ginger honey warm infusion by Dawn Bertram
Types of Medicinal Honeys
Here is a list of my favourite three:
Ginger (Zingiber Officinale) is actually thought of as more of a food by many, and indeed it is a staple addition to dishes in many cultures. It is quite a powerful medicinal as well, and the perfect complement to honey as the pungent heat of ginger is tamed by the sweetness of honey giving the concoction a nice balance. The combination is ridiculously addictive.
Ginger has a warm, pungent and acrid energy, making it effective as a stimulant, diaphoretic, carminative, antispasmodic, antimicrobial and emmenagogue (regulates blood and brings on menstruation). It affects the lung, spleen, and stomach in Chinese medicine, and is Yang in nature. It increases pitta/treepa, and reduces vata/loong and kapha/beken in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine respectively. It warms the stomach and is useful as an anti-nauseant and digestive. It’s warming nature helps to break up mucous and produce diaphoresis during fever. It assists as an antimicrobial to reduce bacteria and viruses. You can read more about how ginger and honey were found to reduce antibiotic resistant bacteria here. Ginger is also used in some cultures to detoxify meat when cooking.
Ginger honey can be taken by the spoonful during episodes of colds and flu (kind of like how you would take cough syrup). Let the honey slowly run down the back of the throat and coat it. The longer there is contact with the mucous membranes, the better. You can also use ginger honey as an adjunctive medicine in hot herbal tea. This would help with diaphoresis and reducing fever if present. Use fresh ginger root chopped up very finely to make your honey and use the warm infusion method.
I am going to tell you what my favourite medicinal honeys are, how to make them, and how to use them.
Grindelia (Grindelia spp., Grindelia Stricta in my area) may not be familiar to non-herbalists. It belongs to the Asteraceae family and is also commonly called gumweed after the sticky gummy white resinous latex that is found on the buds and flowers. This makes it an interesting herb to harvest!
Grindelia is pungent, warm and bitter in nature. It affects the lungs and bladder in Chinese medicine. Its effects on the doshas and nyepa in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine are similar to those stated for ginger. The resin is wonderfully expectorant, making grindelia a top herb for treating bronchial problems. In addition, it is diaphoretic, anti-asthmatic, diuretic, sedative, antimicrobial, and antispasmodic. Its main use is in clearing bronchial secretions in dry non-productive coughs, and this would be the function of grindelia honey. It relaxes bronchial spasm and induces expectoration of mucous at the same time.
Grindelia honey can be taken by the spoonful for dry non-productive coughs or bronchitis and may help reduce asthma-related catarrhs and spasm. It also will assist with diaphoresis and inhibition of bacteria. Use freshly harvested grindelia flowers and unopened buds to make your honey and use the warm infusion method.
Grindelia Stricta bud
Rose Petal Honey
Wild Rose (Rosa spp., Rosa Nutkana in my area) makes one of the most decadent honeys. I really don’t feel like I am taking medicine with this one, and to be honest, I make rose honey more for the pure enjoyment of it.
Rose petals are cool, slightly sweet and bitter, and astringent in nature. Astringents have an action of drying and contracting, thereby reducing things like excess secretions and mucous. Some of rose’s other actions are anti-inflammatory, alterative (blood and lymph cleansing), emmenagogue, antiseptic, and nervine (relaxant). Rose petals affect the spleen, stomach and liver in Chinese medicine, and are used to promote the circulation of chi and blood. They are equalizing to doshas and nyepa in Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine. Rose’s energetic nature makes it a gentle and balanced herb that often does not have the side effects of warmer more acrid herbs.
Rose petal honey can be used in cases of colds or flu by the spoonful or in tea to reduce inflammation and secretions, and induce calm and relaxation. Rose honey can be enjoyed with a cup of tea for the pure sensory experience of it. Use freshly harvested rose petals to make your honey, and use the cold infusion method.
Making the Honey
Always use fresh herbs rather than dried when making herbal honey. Dried herbs just do not extract that well in honey. Choose your honey as discussed above in this article. Harvest your herbs and use them as quickly as possible. This means immediately is best. A few hours is OK. Do not let your herbs sit for days!
There are cold and warm extraction methods for herbal honey. There are very few herbs that extract well in cold honey, but rose is one of them, as it is very delicate and high in volatile oils. Use the cold extraction method for rose and the warm extraction method for ginger and grindelia.
Finely chop (or blend/process) coarser herbs like ginger. Grindelia requires some effort too as the sticky buds can be tough. Rose petals can just be separated and infused whole.
Weigh your herb.
The ratio of herb to honey for cold infusions is 1:12. This means 1 part herb weighed in grams, to 12 parts honey measured in millilitres (eg – 60g of rose petals to 720 ml of honey).
The ratio of herb to honey for warm infusions is 1:5.
For cold infusions, combine the honey and herb in a jar, and stir to mix. Cover. Place the jar in a warm spot and let infuse for 2-4 weeks. Strain honey through sieve or cheesecloth from herb when finished. You may want to warm the honey slightly in a water bath to do this. Squeeze or press the remaining honey out of the herb and add to the strained honey.
For warm infusions, combine the honey and herb in a double boiler. Warm the honey on and off for a period of 3 – 5 days (don’t overheat – gently warm), or until the consistency of the honey has thickened to more “honey like” and the water from the herb has evaporated off. Strain when finished and press out the remaining honey from the herb.
Medicinal honey lasts a long time. Honey is so antimicrobial that it itself does not go bad. Your honey may crystallize, but simply warm it in a double boiler to bring back its liquid consistency.
I hope you feel inspired and experimental after reading this article. I am sure you will agree that the effort is well worth it. When autumn and winter arrive, and that tickle is starting in your throat, you will have your own beautiful and effective remedy ready.
* Please see our medical disclaimer, and always seek qualified help if ill.
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