One of my favorite sounds of summer is the busy buzz of bees as they gather nectar from flowering trees and plants. What a wondrous partnership! Each worker bee drinks the sweet gift of nectar while simultaneously aiding the flower in reproduction through pollination.
The honeybee then transforms the foraged nectar into the sticky, sweet, enticingly delicious mixture we relish. And here, another partnership can bloom: A beekeeper who tends to the well-being of their hives receives the gift of honey in exchange.
In addition to being a sweet treat, honey has many medicinal virtues. According to a review in Pharmacognosy Research, it was historically used for a wide range of diseases, including eye diseases, bronchial asthma, throat infections, tuberculosis, thirst, hiccups, fatigue, dizziness, hepatitis, constipation, worm infestation, piles, eczema, ulcers, and wounds. Today, studies have validated many of these uses, especially in regards to respiratory illnesses (including sore throats and coughs), eye disease, and wounds and burns.
While honey alone offers potent medicine, infusing honey with medicinal herbs results in a simple yet powerful combination. Herbal honey is one of my favorite remedies, not only because of its safety and effectiveness, but also because this medicine can be made entirely from local ingredients, thus creating a beautiful and reciprocal relationship between plants, insects, and humans. We can grow the flowering plants that bees love; delight in their busy buzzing as they drink up the nectar; tend to their hives (or support local beekeepers); and then marry the resulting honey with herbal medicines for ourselves, friends, and family.
Herbal honey is incredibly easy to make, has a variety of uses and a long shelf life, and is a beautiful way to capture the taste of summer. There are several different ways to make this sweet medicine, each with its own benefits.
When you’re ready to create your own herbal honeys, look for nearby beekeepers or head to your local grocery and natural health food stores to purchase honey that was made in your area.
My favorite way to make herbal honey is to use fresh herbs. Honey is hydrophilic, which means it draws water from the plants. When fresh herbs are infused into honey, it creates a syrupy mixture, thinner than honey itself, that’s alive with the taste and benefits of the herbs you used.
When making herbal honey, you’ll want your honey in a liquid state that’s easy to pour. If it’s too thick (something that commonly happens with raw honey), then warm the jar gently in a pan of hot water, or place it next to a heat source for an extended period of time. Avoid warming honey on high heat, as this will decrease some of the medicinal benefits.
To make a fresh herb-infused honey, simply combine the herbs and honey in a jar and top with a lid. After three days, you’ll notice that the mixture has thinned and that the honey now also tastes of the herb. You can pour the honey through a fine mesh strainer to remove the herbs, but I rarely do; it’s often tasty and pleasant to eat them along with the honey. (I do recommend straining out conifer needles, if they’re used, as they’re unpleasant to eat.) See Fresh Rose Petal Honey Recipe for an example.
Herbal honeys last for many years. If your herbs have a lot of water content (such as rose hips), then the honey mixture may ferment. This isn’t harmful, but if you want to avoid fermentation, store your honey mixtures in the fridge.
If you don’t have access to fresh herbs, you can use dried ones to make herbal honey in three different ways.
You can infuse dried, aromatic, aerial parts of herbs (flowers and leaves) into the honey, as you would with fresh herbs. However, you will want to use less of the herb, and the preparation will need a few days longer to infuse. Dried herbs can be unpalatable, so they can be strained off if desired. See Dried Sage Honey Recipe for an example.
This preparation doesn’t work as well for bark, roots, or seeds because their medicinal properties aren’t as strongly extracted into the honey. If you’re working with these ingredients, then I recommend using the herbs as a powder that is then stirred into the honey. Once combined, this herbal honey is ready to consume as is.
This stirring method is often used for tonic herbs that are taken daily. Examples include ashwagandha root (Withania somnifera), astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus), and mushroom powder extracts. See the Astragalus Chai Powder Honey recipe as an example.
Some herbalists like to make herb-infused honey by heating the dried herb and the honey together. I don’t recommend this, because heating honey can diminish some of its benefits. If you want to try this method, I recommend keeping the honey and herb mixture at a very low temperature.
Many of these herbal honeys can be enjoyed drizzled on toast or pancakes, or used to sweeten tea. Rose petal honey is an especially enticing mixture; I can never make enough to gift to friends and family. Infusing fresh rose hips, with seeds removed, is not only delicious but also a great way to preserve the vitamin C and other bioflavonoids within the herb.
Herb-infused honeys are especially wonderful for sore throats and coughs. Thyme, bee balm, rosemary, culinary sage, oregano, garlic, and ginger are all antimicrobial herbs that, when combined with honey, can soothe a sore throat as well as inhibit pathogens. This is a sweet way to take medicine!
While herbal honeys are safe for most people, they shouldn’t be given to children under the age of 2, as this can cause botulism. For those over this age, it’s still beneficial to research new herbs and talk with your health practitioner before ingesting them.
With just a few simple steps, you can have a collection of herbal honeys to enjoy this season. Collect the essence of summer within these nutritious and medicinal treats, and store them away to enjoy their benefits for years to come.
So many herbs can be infused into honey – find the ones you most enjoy! My favorites include:
Anise hyssop: (Agastache foeniculum)
Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Douglas fir needles (Pseudotsuga menziesii)
Elecampane root (Inula helenium)
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Linden (Tilia spp.)
Mints (Mentha spp.)
Oregano (Origanum spp.)
Pine: (Pinus spp.)
Rose hips: (Rosa spp.)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rose petals (Rosa spp.)
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Violet (Viola spp.)
Rosalee de la Forêt is an herbalist and the author of Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies that Heal. Visit www.HerbsWithRosalee.com to get your free course on herbal energetics.
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