Oxy-what? You are not alone if you’ve never heard of oxymels.  Despite the funny sounding name, this traditional folk medicine is a simple and delicious way to get the health benefits of herbs. But you don’t have to stop there. Oxymels have found new life in some of today’s hottest cocktails. And they can be used in the kitchen to add a unique flavor and twist to some of your favorite food and beverage creations.

An oxymel is a sweetened vinegar extract.  Oxymels were popular with many ancient herbalists because vinegar was an effective, yet far cheaper, way to extract the medicinal properties of herbs than alcohol.  Additionally, it made herbs, many of which can be bitter, more pleasant to take. Oxymels are easy to make and delicious.  You can make them with single herbs or a combination of herbs (dried or fresh). But keep in mind that fresh herbs will produce a lighter flavored oxymel than dried herbs.

Oxymels are traditionally made with apple cider vinegar and honey, which have their own soothing properties and health benefits. They are often made in 1:3 and 1:4 ratios, with 3 or 4 parts vinegar and honey to 1 part herb. But you do not need to stick to these. Traditionally, oxymels were often sweeter and made with a lot more honey.  The exact ratio is up to you. In the end, it’s a matter of taste preference.

Oxymels are a great for kids and those that like to avoid alcohol. But since they taste great, all will enjoy.  Don’t be surprised if you find you have a whole collection of herbal oxymels to play with.

And don’t forget, oxymels make great gifts!

Oxymels

What you need:

  • Herb or herbs of choice (cut and sifted is best)
  • Raw honey
  • Apple Cider Vinegar (preferably raw)
  • Glass pint jar with plastic lid
  • Muslin (if straining)

There are two primary ways to make an oxymel. Both are easy and produce great oxymels; so it’s really just a matter of choice. You can either put all ingredients into one jar at once or you can infuse the honey and the vinegar separately and then combine.

Method 1

  1. Add your herb or herb blend of choice to your jar until it fills about ¼ or 1/3 of the jar.
  2. Cover with desired amount of vinegar and honey.
  3. Cover with a lid and shake until well blended.
  4. Store out of direct sunlight for 2-4 weeks; strain and rebottle.

Note: vinegar can corrode metal so it’s best to use a plastic lid or to cover the jar with plastic wrap or parchment paper before sealing with a metal lid.

Method 2

In your jar, combine an infused honey with an infused vinegar in the desired ratio until you get the taste you want. Bottle and enjoy. 

To learn how to make infused vinegars (link to past post)

Dragon Fire Vinegar or Fire Cider

One of the best-known oxymels is a spicy immune tonic known as Fire Cider or Dragon Fire Vinegar.  It was made famous by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar but many have created their own versions of this favorite.  The basic recipe for fire cider is packed full of immune-supporting herbs such as ginger, garlic, onion and cayenne. But there is no need to stop there. Feel free to add other tonic herbs to create your own version of this classic.

Basic ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of chopped ginger
  • Horseradish (exact amount is up to you)
  • ½ cup chopped parley
  • 1-5 tbsp. cayenne (exact amount is up to you)
  • Raw honey

Instructions

  1. Place all the ingredients into a glass quart jar and cover with desired amount of honey and vinegar.  Above is just a guide of where to start; you can adjust the amounts to suit your taste. Additionally, this is traditionally a spicy tonic but feel free to adjust the amount of cayenne and horseradish until you have the spice level you want.
  2. Cover and store for 4 weeks.
  3. Strain when ready and rebottle.
  4. Take daily by the spoonful to help keep your immune system healthy through the winter months or more frequently when you have a cold or flu.

Fire cider is delicious and can be used in the kitchen as well. I often make two varieties, an oxymel with honey and a vinegar without honey to use in cooking.

Possible Additions:

Beet or Pomegranate – these give your cider a great antioxidant boost and turns it a beautiful color.

Astragalus Root – helps support a healthy immune system

Hawthorn Berries – tonic herb good for the heart and circulation

Turmeric – research has found this common spice to ease inflammatory conditions and support healthy digestive system.

Elderberries – support a healthy immune system and ease the symptoms of cold and flu.

And many more!

Erin Smith has been working with plants for 25 years and is medical herbalist and ethnobotanist. She is the creator of Plant-Passionate Living™, an interactive program designed to help people find greater health and vitality through a deeper relationship with plants. Erin is the Founder and Director of the Center for Integrative Botanical Studies.