What is an Oxymel?
There are many different ways to make an herbal extract. Tinctures, glycerites, infusions, hydrosols and essential oils are some of the better known ones, but oxymels are a bit more fringy. You don’t see them around very often, but they are a classic herbal extract, dating all the way back to Hippocrates!
Oxymels are some of my favourite medicines to make. They are an extract using vinegar and honey. They are typically used for immune support and upper respiratory issues, but have many other applications. A well known example of an oxymel is Fire Cider.
Why would we choose to make an oxymel over an infusion, glycerite or tincture? First of all, both vinegar and honey have long shelf lives, making an oxymel last much longer than an infusion. An infusion needs to be used immediately, whereas an oxymel will keep for months. I am not a fan of glycerites for reasons I will get into in a different post, but for now I’ll just say that an oxymel will extract more than a glycerite. Lastly, vinegar extracts minerals and alkaloids much better than alcohol does. If you are making a medicine for nutrient content and shelf stability, an oxymel is the way to go. Tinctures may have a long shelf life, but they are no good if it’s nutrients you are after.
I absolutely love making oxymels in the spring! This time of year is when Mother Nature provides us with an unbelievable abundance of bright, nutrient rich greens to help move winter stagnation out of our bodies, and most of these greens are relatively easy to find. Nettles, Horsetail, Cleavers, Chickweed, Dandelion Leaf, Miner's Lettuce, Sorel, Bittercress, Wall lettuce, and Violet are just some of the abundance you can find once you get out and look. These plants have a vast amount of nutrients packed into their teeny little bodies, and an oxymel is a great way to extract them. I would also like to point out that all these plants begin to show up in Aries season, the sign of get-up-and-go, which is exactly what they are encouraging us to do!
How to make your own Spring Tonic!
First thing to do is get your honey, vinegar and a maceration vessel. I like to use local, raw honey, and apple cider vinegar (ACV). Bonus points if it’s homemade! If you don’t have these, regular creamed honey and white vinegar will work in a pinch, they just won’t have the same medicinal quality as local honey and ACV. Canning jars are my favourite option as a vessel for maceration. Pick a size that is suitable for you and have it ready.
Next step is to find your plants. Now, it is important to have a plan before you go out wildcrafting. Do some research so you know which plants you are going to pick, how much you are going to need, and have a rough idea of where they will be growing. You don’t want to go out unprepared and find nothing at all, or irresponsibly harvest too much of something. Also make sure you have a couple bags, some scissors and gloves. The most important thing is not to go too crazy! It can be super exciting when you are out looking for plants and you finally come across some, but before you pick, make sure to look around. Are there a lot of plants? Or only a few? Is it near a road or some other sort of industrial activity? Are you 100% sure this is the plant you are looking for?
If you’ve prepared correctly, then you will know how to properly harvest each plant. Take your scissors, and gloves if it’s Nettles, and harvest what you need, always being mindful of how much you are taking. Never harvest more than ¼ of a patch. If a patch is small, keep looking. If a patch has signs of already being harvested, keep looking. Also, always say thank you to the plant. You have taken a piece of it for yourself, be grateful that another living creature shared it’s abundance with you. A nice idea is to bring along some water to offer each plant as you harvest, as a way of saying thank you.
Once you get home with all your plant material, prepare it right away. Don’t disrespect Mother Nature by letting your harvest sit and rot. Go through the plants and release any critters that may have stowed away, and remove any dead or dying plant material.
Next chop it all up and fill a jar about ¾ of the way. Do not pack down your plant material. Leave it light and fluffy. Now it’s time to pour in the vinegar and honey. Equal parts honey and ACV is how I like to do it, but you can adjust the ratio to your preference. Pour in enough to cover the plants plus 1 inch. Keep an eye on it. Your plants will probably float at first, but as they begin to take in the vinegar and honey, they will settle down a bit more. If you need to, add more vinegar or honey.
Put a piece of wax paper on top and then screw the lid on. The wax paper is to prevent the vinegar from corroding the lid. Now label your jar! Don’t just assume you will remember what is in it or when it is done macerating! You won’t. Just label it. Write down what it is, what the ingredients are, the date they were harvested and the date you began the extraction.
Now set it in a spot out of direct sunlight, but where you will still see it everyday so you remember to shake it. It needs to macerate for about two weeks. Give it a gentle, tumbling shake everyday to redistribute the plant material.
Once the two weeks is up, strain it, bottle it and label it again. Store it in a cool, dark place. I keep mine in the fridge. Take 1-2 tbsp everyday as a tonic, to keep those springtime minerals in your body all summer!
That’s it! Such an easy and delicious way to enjoy the nutritional benefits of our plant allies.