Herbal medicine is the medicine of the people. It is simple, safe, effective, and free. Our ancestors used – and our neighbors around the world still use – plant medicines for healing and health maintenance. It’s easy. You can do it too, and you don’t need a degree or any special training.
Ancient memories arise in you when you begin to use herbal medicine. These lessons are designed to nourish and activate those memories and your inner herbalist so you can be your own herbal expert.
In our first lesson, we learned how to “listen” to the plants by focusing on how they taste. In lesson two, we explored simples and water-based herbal remedies. In the third lesson, we learned how to tell safe (nourishing and tonifying) herbs from more dangerous (stimulating and sedating) herbs. Our fourth lesson dealt with poisons; we learned how to make a tincture and we put together our Herbal Medicine Chest. The fifth lesson found us making herbal vinegars, and the sixth, making herbal oils.
In our last lesson together, we looked at our thoughts about healing; we discussed the Scientific goal of fixing the broken machine, the Heroic intention to cleanse the toxins from our polluted bodies, and the Wise Woman desire to nourish the wholeness of the unique individual.
In this, the eighth lesson, we return to the herbal pharmacy, to make healing sweets: herbal honeys, syrups, and cough drops.
In our next lesson, the ninth and last of this series, we will continue our exploration of the ideas behind healing with a tour of the Seven Medicines.
Honey has been regarded as a healing substance for thousands of years. Greek healers relied on honey water, vinegar water, and honey/vinegar water as their primary cures. An Egyptian medical text dated to about 2600 BCE mentions honey 500 times in 900 remedies. What makes honey so special?
First, honey is antibacterial. It counters infections on the skin, in the intestines, in the respiratory system, or throughout the body.
Second, honey is hydroscopic, a long word meaning “water loving”. Honey holds moisture in the place where it is put; it can even draw moisture out of the air. A honey facial leaves skin smooth and deliciously moist. These two qualities – anti-infective and hydroscopic – make honey an ideal healer of wounds of all kinds, including burns, bruises and decubita (skin ulcers), an amazing soother for sore throats, a powerful ally against bacterial diarrhea, and a counter to asthma.
Third, honey may be as high as 35 percent protein. This, along with the readily-available carbohydrate (sugar) content, provides a substantial surge of energy and a counter to depression. Some sources claim that honey is equal, or superior, to ginseng in restoring vitality. Honey’s proteins also promote healing, both internally and externally.
And honey is a source of vitamins B, C, D and E, as well as some minerals. It appears to strengthen the immune system and help prevent (some authors claim to cure) cancer.
Honey is gathered from flowers, and individual honeys from specific flowers may be more beneficial than a blended honey. Tupelo honey, from tupelo tree blossoms, is high in levulose, which slows the digestion of the honey making it more appropriate for diabetics. Manuka honey, from New Zealand, is certified as antibacterial. My “house brand” is a rich, black, locally-produced autumn honey gathered by the bees from golden rod, buckwheat, chicory, and other wild flowers.
Raw honey also contains pollen and propolis, bee and flower products that have special healing powers.
Bee pollen, like honey, is a concentrated source of protein and vitamins; unlike honey, it is a good source of minerals, hormonal precursors, and fatty acids. Bee pollen has a reputation for relieving, and with consistent use, curing allergies and asthma. The pollens that cause allergic reactions are from plants that are wind-pollinated, not bee-pollinated, so any bee pollen, or any honey containing pollen, ought to be helpful. One researcher found an 84 percent reduction in symptoms among allergy sufferers who consumed a spoonful of honey a day during the spring, summer, and fall plus three times a week in the winter.
Propolis is made by the bees from resinous tree saps and is a powerful antimicrobial substance. Propolis can be tinctured in pure grain alcohol (resins do not dissolve well in 100 proof The Lost Book of Herbal vodka, my first choice for tinctures) and used to counter infections such as bronchitis, sinusitis, colds, flus, gum disease, and tooth decay.
WARNING: All honey, but especially raw honey, contains the spores of botulinus. While this is not a problem for adults, children under the age of one year may not have enough stomach acid to prevent these spores from developing into botulism, a deadly poison.
Herbal honeys are made by pouring honey over fresh herbs and allowing them to merge over a period of several days to several months. When herbs are infused into honey, the water-loving honey absorbs all the water-soluble components of the herb, and all the volatile oils too, most of which are anti-infective. Herbal honeys are medicinal and they taste great. When I look at my shelf of herbal honeys I feel like the richest person in the world.
USING YOUR HERBAL HONEYS
Place a tablespoonful of your herbal honey (include herb as well as honey) into a mug; add boiling water; stir and drink. Or, eat herbal honeys by the spoonful right from the jar to soothe and heal sore, infected throats and tonsils. Smear the honey (no herb please) onto wounds and burns.
MAKE AN HERBAL HONEY
- Coarsely chop the fresh herb of your choice (leave garlic whole).
- Put chopped herb into a wide-mouthed jar, filling almost to the top.
- Pour honey into the jar, working it into the herb with a chopstick if needed.
- Add a little more honey to fill the jar to the very top.
- Cover tightly. Label.
Your herbal honey is ready to use in as little as a day or two, but will be more medicinal if allowed to sit for six weeks.
Herbal honeys made from aromatic herbs make wonderful gifts.