Medicinal syrups often are prepared with sugar or honey, usually at a proportion of 2 parts sweetener to 1 part liquid, or sometimes in equal parts.
The liquid usually is an herbal concentrate—an infusion—and is then reduced by simmering, which evaporates the water and thickens the liquid. The sweetener helps preserve the herbal extract. Sometimes a little alcohol, such as brandy, is added to aid preservation.
Syrup has the advantage of being sticky, which helps the medicine adhere to tissues longer than an infusion made with water. Syrup is the usual medium for cough remedies. We also use syrups for beverages and in recipes. For these, we tend to use less sweetener and more water, therefore they are less concentrated and of a thinner consistency. Use honey or maple syrup to naturally sweeten an herbal syrup. If you are looking for strong herbal flavor, consider that both honey and maple syrup have their own dominant taste and can overpower mild-flavored herbs like lemon balm. Stevia leaves can be used to sweeten an infusion; however, this mixture will not thicken or become syrupy like honey or sugar. All syrups should be kept in the refrigerator.
Susan Belsinger and Tina Marie Wilcox use herbs every day in and around their homes and greenhouses. Some of this article’s information and recipes are from their book The Creative Herbal Home (Herbspirit, 2007).
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Herbal Apothecary 101