In the process of making an elixir, water is used to extract the water soluable actives and a quality undenatured botanical alcohol extracts those other more difficult to extricate constituents which will be greatly diluted later in the process. Even small quantities of appropriate essential oils can be added to elixirs or very fine herb powder may also be held in suspension in the syrup.
Glycerine forms a typical part of most elixir bases as it is naturally sweet and thus suitable for those avoiding sugars; it tastes sweet but it is not metabolized as sugar in the body and doesn't cause a rise in blood sugar. Glycerine is miscible with water and alcohol thus increases the solubility of the water/alcohol vehicle with other herbal extracts. It also contributes to the overall stability of the formula. Glycerine is a naturally occurring type of alcohol that is colourless or pale yellow, odourless and syrupy with a sweet and warm taste. When it reaches the intestines, it attracts water into the gut, softening stools and relieving constipation. It is best to use an organic plant-based glycerine that comes from soy or coconut oil for wholesome herbal elixirs.
Honey, or another natural sweet source such as maple syrup, can provide an elixir base that will help preserve the mixture and make it more palatable. The amount of sweetener used will vary depending upon how sweet we want our syrup and the sweet, sour, bitter or salty nature of the dried or fresh herbs that are used. Honey, as used by the ancients, is the healthiest choice of sugar for elixirs, especially in its raw form and its innate compatibility with herbs. The medicinal herbs are steeped or sometimes simmered gently over the lowest heat in the honey medium until the medicinal properties are extracted out of the plant material and into the honey. Too much heat should be avoided to prevent potential fermentation, which would likely create a sort of herbal honey mead or liqueur, this is fine when desired but not always suitable.
The potent, earthy taste and tone of healing herbs in a sweet easily digestible honey base provides an enjoyable and nourishing experience while also supporting our internal processes to assimilate all those plant actives.
The final stage of making elixirs involves straining all the solids from the mixture; sometimes using a very fine muslin is best for this purpose. The resultant strained liquid, must then be quickly poured into sterilised air-tight bottles and stored for future use.
Well worth the effort
Elixirs take extra time to make, but they keep for many months if they are refrigerated after opening and are preservative-free because honey is a healthy natural preservative in itself. This makes them more convenient than simmering tonic herbs daily or making decoctions when we’re not feeling well and need a fortifying or energising lift. In a stable cool environment, a syrup will last quite well so long as it is administered by the spoonful and not taken straight from the bottle, which may be hard to resist when many are so delicious.
Elixirs can be taken in small frequent doses. They are a great way to administer not so pleasant tasting but efficacious herbs or an effective way to add a flavoursome “hit” of our favourite herbs to beverages or teas and food dishes to bring them to life. More importantly, herbal elixir syrups strengthen and nourish while restoring harmony within the body all on their own when taken by the spoonful for a readily absorbed dosage of concentrated herbs. Nice tasting herbal elixirs can be added to water like a cordial or added to bubbly drinks or cocktails for a really interesting herbal twist.
“A spoon full of honey helps the medicine go down”
For certain predisposed people, adding more sugar to a diet that may already be overburdened with refined carbohydrates is not wise; however a modest amount of honey-sweet medicine for such people is fine perhaps for short-term therapeutic strategies. For most of us, a sweet elixir can provide authentic therapeutic help as a worthy addition to our wellness program. Fortunately, honey based elixirs don’t contribute to large amounts of sugar going into the body at one time, even with frequent repeated doses. Three very good reasons to use the honey syrup base are excellent natural preservation, agreeable taste and the multiple health benefits already existent in honey.
A honey-based elixir may sometimes make the difference to whether a medicinal elixir is ingested for many children, likewise with fussy adults; sweet syrup may help a very bitter medicine, such as liver tonic to be better tolerated. Traditionally elixir syrups were always favoured as cholagogues (liver tonics) and also for notoriously nasty-tasting laxatives, often formulated as quite complex compounds. Honey elixirs act as a demulcent in their own right and are thus naturally soothing on the throat, digestive tract and by reflex, the lungs. In energetic terms, elixirs are an excellent medium for nutritive (yin) tonics as opposed to the more eliminative yang nature of many alcoholic preparations which also have their place in holistic healing.
Delightful Elixirs from the Tinderbox Apothecary: