Homemade herbal syrups are not as easy as they look – even for the trained herbalist! Sugar-based concoctions are more the purview of candy-makers who understand the delicate alchemy of sugar, which irreversibly changes it’s chemistry with every advance in temperature.
One of the first things I learned when I started making “Dr. B’s” was the traditional recipes require twice the amount of sugar and cooking time to get the right consistency. Some herbal books recommend using alcohol as a preservative, but I’ve found the sugar alone is sufficient for a shelf life up to one year. The base for any herbal syrup is a good infusion (see the first page!). While it is true that some herbs require cold-infusion, and some can only withstand a brief steeping, I have found better results with a long, hot infusion of all the herbs combined together from the beginning. (Although I recommend staying away from delicate herbs like sage and violet for this process.)
For those of you who have loyally followed my trial-and-error in herbal syrup production, here are the fruits of my labors for you to try at home!
Equipment: sieve, spoons, large cooking pot, measuring cups and spoons.
Ingredients: herbs of your choice including mint, mullein, cherry bark, licorice root, osha, horehound; 1 pound of organic cane sugar; organic lemon slices; 3 ½ cups water.
Directions: Add any combination of herbs, up to 3 Tablespoons to 3 ½ cups cold water. Prepare strong infusion allowing herbs to steep four hours or overnight. Strain infusion into large, clean cooking pot. Add sugar, turn heat to medium and stir. When sugar is dissolved, add lemon slices and continue stirring occasionally. Watch closely that the syrup doesn’t boil over!
After two hours of stirring, watching and careful, loving attention to this magical, alchemical process, begin testing your syrup by removing a spoonful, allowing to cool and tasting for consistency. You can also use a candy thermometer to test the syrup at 250 degrees.
If it comes out too liquidy, keep cooking or use it as is! If it gets too hot (+300 degrees) quickly pour into candy molds, ice cube trays or cookie sheets to make cough drops!