Late Summer Oxymel: Food and Medicine
For many, the distinction between “food” and “medicine” is a clear line with pills on one side and meals on the other. In reality, the two overlap a lot more than we sometimes realize! Many of the foods we eat have medicinal properties, and true medicine does not always have to be processed to a perfect white pill and delivered by pharmacy.
Oxymels, blends of vinegar and honey infused with herbs, have been used as medicine for thousands of years. Ancient herbalists realized that not only are vinegar and honey medicinal on their own, they also both extract different constituents from various medicinal herbs. When you are infusing herbs into some kind of liquid, that liquid is referred to as a menstruum. Different liquids extract different components of the plant, which is why you’ll sometimes see a combination used in herbal preparations. (alcohol + honey = cordial, alcohol + water = dual extraction, honey + vinegar = oxymel, and so on.) How wonderful it is that you can create a delicious culinary potion that also has some healing properties, don’t you think?
Oxymel literally means “acid honey” and has been around since antiquity. Hippocrates himself wrote about the thirst-quenching properties of oxymel. Mixed with water, it was humanity’s first sports drink! He also prescribed vinegar and honey syrup as an expectorant to ease wet, congested coughs and other ailments. Herbalists have kept the tradition alive throughout the ages, using vinegar and honey to extract, preserve, and administer the beneficial properties of herbs like bee balm, elderberries, garlic, rosemary, sage, and thyme. You can sip it neat, dilute it in a cup of hot water, or use it in a cocktail.
One particularly famous kind of oxymel is “fire cider,” which is filled with warming spices and plants such as garlic, peppers, turmeric, ginger, and onions. It’s a well-known and well-loved potion in the herbalism world for preventing and fighting off colds and flus all winter long. It’s thought to stimulate digestion and be anti-inflammatory as well. Fire cider lives up to its name, though, and packs a strong and feisty punch! I wanted to offer a slightly less intense brew that’s more applicable to daily life.
This particular potion is the bridge between late summer and early fall - equally at home mixed into a zesty salad dressing or stirred into roasted vegetables, drizzled over hearty meats, or added to rich stews. It makes good use of the bounty of late summer, from nasturtiums to bee pollen to goldenrod. Each ingredient brings its own properties to the table.
Nasturtiums are high in vitamin C (they were even used as a cure for scurvy). They also contain a lot of lutein, which helps to strengthen eyes and eyesight. Bee pollen contains rutin, an antioxidant that helps the body use the vitamin C provided by other ingredients. It’s also filled with vitamins to bolster the body and boost the immune system (especially during allergy season, though if you have severe pollen allergies you should avoid this addition.) Goldenrod is known for lifting spirits, a wonderful source of sunshine to pull out in the middle of winter. Ginger is warming and soothing to the digestive system, while turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Together, they create a zesty and flavorful brew that can be enjoyed as food-as-medicine.
Late Summer Oxymel
1/2 c. nasturtium flowers and greens
1/2 c. goldenrod flowers
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 pinkie-sized piece of fresh turmeric, grated
1 Tsp. bee pollen
2 c unfiltered apple cider vinegar
2 c. honey
1 orange, sliced
Mix together the honey and vinegar until the honey has dissolved. Set aside.
In a large clean jar, add the nasturtium flowers, goldenrod flowers, ginger, turmeric, and bee pollen. Pour the vinegar/honey mixture over the top.
Allow to infuse in a cool, dark place for at least a month. Add the orange a week before straining it.
Strain the oxymel and bottle it in clean bottles. Use frequently in dishes or take as a tonic. Keeps for up to a year.
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