Stay Well with Oxymels

Use vinegar and your favorite herbs and flowers to create this sweet and zesty everyday remedy.

| May/June 2019


Photo by Getty Images/Shaiith

Oxymels are a thin herbal syrup that combine the sweetness of honey, the tanginess of apple cider vinegar, and your favorite medicinal flowers for a summer remedy unlike any other. They’re certainly one of the lesser-known forms of herbal remedies — less likely to be found on the shelf of your local food co-op — which makes them a perfect do-it-yourself project for your kitchen machinations that can be enjoyed for years or gifted with glee.

Oxymels have been in use for thousands of years, dating back to the ancient empires of Persia, Greece, and Rome, where great minds such as Hippocrates, Cato, and Pliny lauded them. The delicious practice has persisted, as you can still order a traditional oxymel called sekanjabin as a drink at some Persian restaurants. They largely fell by the wayside in United States herbalism practice until Rosemary Gladstar began teaching her perennially popular fire cider recipe, a traditional immune-supporting remedy, in 1981. As the herbal renaissance blooms in the country, oxymels are becoming increasingly popular too, and creative herbalists are exploring the nuances of medicine making.

Properly made oxymels are one of the most delicious herbal remedy forms. Their complex flavor is versatile enough to use as a medicine from a dropper or spoon, but also as a salad dressing, marinade, or baking sweetener in the grand tradition of food as medicine.


 Photo by Casey Marshall

Oxymels’ versatility extends to more than just flavor: the medicine they impart is broadly useful, in addition to the medicinal benefits of the herbs themselves. Vinegar is a powerhouse at extracting healthy minerals from herbs, including calcium, iron, and magnesium that naturally occur in plants such as alfalfa (Medicago sativa), chickweed (Stellaria media), nettle (Urtica dioica), oat straw (Avena sativa), raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus), and red clover (Trifolium pratense). High-quality raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar offers a probiotic gut tonic all its own. It also successfully extracts healthy soluble fiber (the “heart healthy” type that helps metabolize cholesterol and hormones) from fiber-rich roots such as burdock (Arctium lappa), elecampane (Inula helenium), and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).

In addition to extracting medicinal compounds from herbs, honey imparts a plethora of enzymes and both probiotic and prebiotic compounds that aid in its anti-inflammatory, anti-allergenic, immune-boosting, and wound-healing properties. Altogether, these two base ingredients plus medicinal flowers yield uniquely well-rounded remedies with broad applications, so tasty that your friends and family will keep coming back for more.

Use the recommended tools and general instructions (below) as a base for oxymel creation.

However, there’s plenty of space for creativity and personalization within these recipes. Feel free to double the honey, cut the vinegar in half, or add some garlic.

 Tools for Making Oxymels

  • Double boiler
  • 2 glass pint jars
  • Wax paper
  • Labels
  • Strainer or potato ricer
  • 1 glass quart jar, or a pretty glass
    bottle of similar size

General Oxymel Instructions

These instructions apply to the following three recipes, and any others you may create on your own. The amount of herbs, honey, and apple cider vinegar will vary, depending on your specific recipe.

  1. Mix herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles.
  2. Place 1 pile of herbs and all honey in the top of double boiler and cover. Heat as gently as possible over the lowest heat, ensuring honey doesn’t get warmer than your skin, as this destroys the benefits of raw honey. It helps to turn the burner off when the water is hot in the bottom of the double boiler. Heat 1 to 2 hours, until the room is fragrant and the honey has taken on the taste of the herbs you’ve added.
  3. As the honey infuses, put the second pile of herbs in a pint jar, then fill with raw apple cider vinegar. Cut a square of wax paper a few inches larger than the lid, and place between the jar lid and its contents to prevent deterioration of the cap’s metal and plastic into the vinegar. Label with ingredients and date.
  4. When the honey is infused, decant it with the herbs into the second jar, and continue treating as in Step 3.
  5. Store both vinegar and honey in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 weeks.
  6. Strain out herbs, pressing the last of the liquid from them; a potato ricer works well for this.
  7. Combine honey and vinegar in a quart jar or pretty bottle, and shake vigorously.
  8. Label with ingredients and date. You can store your oxymels for 6 months to a year with refrigeration.


Photo by Adobe Stock/Alex Green

Grandmother’s Flower Garden Oxymel

Ever lament the passing of the far-too-brief lilac season? This easy recipe captures and preserves the scent of spring’s promise. Medicinally, both lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and rose (Rosa spp.) are gently soothing to the nervous system. They’re especially effective allies through hardship and grief, calming our anxieties, smoothing our frazzled edges, and keeping us present in the moment to help us stop and smell the roses.


  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups each of lilac and rose flowers
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw local honey
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw apple cider vinegar

Note: Harvest flowers at their peak and use same day. Any fragrant cultivar is appropriate; wild rose (Rosa multiflora) is also wonderful.


  1. Remove stems from flowers. Tear or chop flowers.
  2. Blend lilac and rose flowers together equally, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar.
  3. Follow Steps 2 through 8 under the “General Oxymel Instructions.”
  4. Enjoy this herbal remedy on its own (by the teaspoon), as a sugar alternative in baked goods, such as cranberry muffins or banana bread, or drizzle it on ice cream, pancakes, and more.


Photo by Getty Images/Aelita17

End of Hibernation Oxymel

This savory recipe contains the benefits of cleansing tonics, herbs that are historically taken in spring to stimulate healthy organ function after a long winter. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a delightfully bitter herb famous for stimulating overall digestive function (liver, gall bladder, and small intestine), as well as nutrient absorption, hormone and cholesterol balance, and excretory function. Chickweed (Stellaria media) is a common garden weed with a bright taste that improves kidney and lymphatic function, which in turn improves immunity and cardiovascular health and clears the skin. Red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) has a mild, sweet taste and helps protect our bodies from some of the harmful effects of pollution by blocking the activity of xenoestrogens on our hormone receptors. Finally, chives’ (A. schoenoprasum) mild garlicky spice brings with it gentle immune boosting properties, as well as liver stimulation for overall better health.


  • 3/4 to 1 cup of each of the following: Dandelion flowers and leaves; Chickweed flowers, leaves, and stems; Red clover flowers; Chive flowers
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw local honey
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw apple cider vinegar


  1. Chop flowers and leaves.
  2. Blend herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar.
  3. Follow Steps 2 through 8 under the “General Oxymel Instructions.”
  4. Enjoy this herbal remedy on its own (by the teaspoon), as a salad dressing, a marinade for chicken or tofu, or tossed with roasted vegetables.


Photo by Getty Images/ALLEKO

Chill Pill Oxymel

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is one of my favorite herbs in an oxymel, as it brings its own bright tanginess to the already complex flavors. The combination of lemon balm, borage (Borago officinalis), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) delivers a distinctly cooling aspect during the summer heat. Medicinally, this recipe is cooling to our hot summer nervous systems, decreasing stress in the midst of summer’s hustle and bustle, while clarifying our minds, sharpening memory and alertness, and helping us gather strength for the work ahead. It’s like a quick dip in a cold stream on a blisteringly hot June day.


  • 1 to 1-1/3 cup of each of the following: Lemon balm leaves and flowers (or just leaves if it’s not yet blooming); Lavender leaves and flowers; Borage flowers
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw local honey
  • 12 to 16 ounces raw apple
    cider vinegar


  1. Chop flowers and leaves.
  2. Blend herbs together, then separate into 2 equal piles, ensuring each pile will fit inside a pint jar.
  3. Follow Steps 2 through 8 under the “General Oxymel Instructions.”
  4. Enjoy this herbal remedy on its own (by the teaspoon), as a sweetener to iced tea or as an alternative for half the sugar in baked goodies, such as sugar cookies, scones, or cranberry muffins. 

Juliette Abigail Carr is a clinical herbalist and the proprietor of Old Ways Herbal School of Plant Medicine, which offers various courses on herbalism and gardening. Read more and contact her at Old Ways Herbal and on Instagram @OldWaysHerbal.



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