Archives for posts with tag: Honey

hello lemon balm, mint and friends!

I like to go for coffee with friends a couple times a week.  These are always important times for me where I am able to relax and unwind and just be with my buds.   When you live in a city and you have such a small apartment that your living room is also your dining room, entertainment centre, arts and crafts room, library and home office, it feels good to get out and embrace the perks of living in a city by going to a favourite coffee shop.

Last week, I was at a famously ubiquitous coffee shop with my friend.  She wanted neither coffee nor tea; she wanted a smoothie.  The problem was that the smoothie cost over $5 once the taxes were included! And that was the ‘prepared’ smoothie; the ‘fresh’ deluxe one was upwards of seven. Yikes. My friend and I go for coffee a couple times a week.  $5 per occasion makes for $10 a week.  Do this around  40 weeks a year, and it all adds up to about $400.  This is a lot of mooola for a few leaves infused in water, a couple percolated beans or a cup of juice and blended fruits.  This calculation is not something new to me. I read about the Latte Factor a couple years ago in a book by David Bach; it still shocks me to figure out the annual expenses for some things.

After feeling a little soured over the high cost of smoothies, my friend suggested that we bring a snack and a thermos containing some sort of drink to a park.  I think this is a great idea, particularly in the summer when Montreal’s parks are so beautiful.

So, this week we are going to try it.  We will enjoy an hour in the park instead of going to the coffee shop.  I can’t rule out coffee shops all together, because they are weather-proof places for me to expand my space.  That said, parks are apart of my space too. I can enjoy fine company in an equally pleasant park as many times as my friends and I wish to do so throughout the summer and into the fall.

To accompany this economical twist to our tradition, here is the recipe for what I am going to bring to our tea-time in the park. It is practically free!

Almost Free Tea

Go to the garden and fill a 1 litre jar with several handfuls of lemon balm, mint and other leaves you can identify as leaves suitable for tea (don’t be a hero and pick something you sort of, kind of recognize… only pick the ones you really know!  🙂 .  Pour a litre of boiling water over the leaves and allow to steep for 15 minutes.  Strain the leaves and allow the tea to cool.  Add a little honey and/or a squeeze of lemon to the tea.  Pour into a thermos filled with ice.  Bring the thermos to a park and enjoy with friends.

*If you do not have a garden or cannot identify plants, then choose a pre-packaged dried tea that you enjoy. I suggest a tangy one made with hibiscus.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal.

elderberries, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves & elderflowers, yarrow, peppermint

Elderberry syrups are everywhere these days.

I love the fact that these products are available but I often wince at the price tag.  It is like anything though, you are paying for the convenience and the availability… and maybe a touch of hype?  I know how to make elderberry syrup, and I can tell you that it is not very expensive to make.   It’s no wonder that this syrup is in demand: elderberries are anti-inflammatory, relaxingly diaphoretic, antiviral against many viruses and a wee bit laxative in regular doses.  These little berries are helpful in cases of colds, sore throats and flus.

I like to keep elderberries on-hand. One of the advantages in doing so is that I do not have always make a syrup.  I can make a decoction of the berries, and then add little honey. Sometimes I forego the honey, since  it’s important to avoid sugar; too much sugar gives my immune system a lot to deal with. This will ultimately set me back.  On the other hand, there is a disadvantage to avoiding sugars in herbal preparations. In this case, an elderberry decoction has a much shorter shelf life – like between 24 and 72 hours – if kept in the fridge.  I add honey and make an elder berry syrup in cases where I want a longer shelf life, if I am dealing with people who are new to herbal remedies, or who have sensitive palates.

Elderberry Syrup

The most basic syrup is elderberries simmered for a long while in water, then squished, strained and composted. Add honey to the final decoction.  As always, I can add all sorts of tasty and useful ingredients to make it my own lil’ creation.

First Step

1/2 cup dried elderberries (50 grams)

3 cups of water

In a sauce pan, bring cold water and berries to a boil, then slowly simmer until it is reduced to 1/2 the amount, between one cup and one and a half cups.

Second Step: Squish the berries to release the juice, Strain with a strainer lined with cheese cloth.  Compost the berries.

Third Step: Mix 1 cup of raw honey into the hot decoction.  Sometimes I add tinctures, like 50 ml of echinacea.

Fourth Step: Put the syrup into a suitable container with a tight fitting lid, making sure that there is not a lot of head space.  Label clearly, note ingredients, suggested uses and the date it was made. Use within 2-3 months (before the end of the winter).

How I use the syrup: I take a teaspoon of the syrup several times a day if I am fighting a cold or flu because it will generally decrease the severity and duration of the illness.  It is nice to stir it into a tea… perhaps the elderflower, mint and yarrow tea?

The decoction: Take 1 tablespoon of the berries and put in a sauce pan with 2 cups of cold water.  Add fresh ginger or cinnamon if you would like.  Slowly simmer this until it is reduced by half or for a half an hour.  Remove from the heat.  If you want, add a teaspoon or two of dried leaves and flowers to this (yarrow, mint, elderflower) and steep for 10 minutes before straining everything.  This might seem like a strong brew, so I take a 1/4 cup every couple hours.  I drink other tea and water in addition to this because I know that I want to get a lot of fluids into my system when I am fighting something.

THE DIY elderberry syrup kit!

Take the ingredients of your choosing and put them in a little muslin bag.  Or put them in a cute jar that could hold the syrup after it is ready made.  Attach clear instructions on how to make, use and store this syrup.  Add a little container of ye olde traditional blend of peppermint, elderflower and yarrow. Decorate as desired.  The ready made syrup is a nice gift too.  I like the dried berries and such because it is easier to transport and people have the choice of making a decoction without sweetener or a syrup.

optional additions:

1 stick of cinnamon , 5 cloves, 3 crushed cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon echinacea root, 1/4 tsp ginger powder, a few slices of raw ginger

*glycerites of elderberry are also wonderful.

** the elderberries I am referring to are Sambucus nigra and Sambucus canadensis.  Be sure to know what berries you are working with.  The red berry elders are toxic.

Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

Nothing prepares one more than preparedness!

I have to admit it, there have been a couple times in my life when I have been sick and felt like sniffly pile, dripping with self pity.  I love my independence, but feeling sick can change my perception and suddenly make me feel very vulnerable and alone, even if I am not!  Nothing feels worse than being achy, tingly and without a drop of energy to do anything about it.  Luckily, age has some advantages, like thinking ahead.  Below I have compiled a list of items that I should have on hand throughout the winter.  Nothing here is new.  It is all old news and isn’t that great?  Some methods stand the test of time!  This kit is great but my small list of must-haves is not the only list of must-haves out there.  You might have a completely different list.  Please send me yours! I love researching traditional remedies because I am always finding a vast variety of solutions for any one problem.

Have a great weekend everyone!  I will be taking a couple hours to round up my cold and flu kitchen essentials!

Here are some of my kitchen essentials for dealing with colds and flus.

  • William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - Soup (1865)

    Soup, soup, soup! I have homemade chicken stock in the freezer and even a tetra pack chicken stock in the pantry to make simple soups  AND I have ingredients for red lentil soup AND I have miso in my fridge ready to mix with hot water.  When I am feeling sick, the last thing I want is some tinny canned soup.  I am not likely to go shopping whilst I am in such a state. Planning ahead alleviates stress and improves my chances of being able to enjoy a simple soup on a day when my body needs a break from digesting heavier foods.  Giving my digestive system a break lets my body focus on other things, like getting better.  There are so many recipes for soup.  Here is a great one!

  • Salt.  I mix together water and salt and gargle this salty solution whenever I have a sore throat.  Why salt?  Follow this simple exercise and find out why.  On a day when you are feeling fine, go to Schwartz’s on St. Laurent and have a smoked meat sandwich.  Then walk into Segal’s just up the street and head to the back of the store.  In big wooden crates, you will find stacks of unwrapped, desiccated, salted fish.  Salt can “cure” fish, giving it a longer shelf life, partly because it inhibits bacterial growth.  If I gargle with salt water when my throat is inflamed and dealing with an infection, the salt water draws the moisture from my throat and purifies the mucous membranes.  Incidentally, “smoke” is also used to cure meat because it draws the exterior surface of the brisket together.  (Eeeew, I know, this is gross!)  In herbal medicine, plants are also occasionally cured with smoke.  But, this is another topic for a another day!
  • European Honey Bee Touching Down

    ready for landing

    Raw Honey from a reputable farmer.  Honey is fairly controversial due to common farming practices which have stressed the bee populations. If I am going to use it, I make sure it is from a good source.   And although it is up to 60% sweeter than white sugar, it is beneficial in small quantities.  Honey moistens dry throats and dry coughs.  It also inhibits bacterial growth and it is said to neutralize toxins and relieve pain.  In very small quantities, it is an appropriate sweetener for herbal teas and other foods during times of illness.  (Honey is never given to babies under the age of 2 because babies do not have mature immune systems that can tolerate a possible exposure to Clostridium botulism.)

  • Thyme is very nice with honey.  Common garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a wee herb with tiny leaves and it is quite the powerhouse due to it’s antibacterial, antiviral, anti parasitic, antispasmodic, anti-tussive, expectorating and carminative properties!   I steep 1/2 teaspoon of dried leaves for 15 minutes in a large cup of freshly boiled water.  I drink one or more cups throughout the day to deal with respiratory infections, sore throats and spasmodic coughs.  I can even take the contents of that large cup of steeping tea as a steam instead.  I place the tea and thyme leaves in a bowl and place it on a table.  Then I put a towel over my head, place my head over the bowl and steam those nasal passages.  I breathe deeply and let my respiratory system greet the goodness of thyme!
  • A not so common idea… A few years ago, my aromatherapy teacher informed us that an efficient, wide spectrum and powerful antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral combo is thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare), cloves (Syzygium aromaticium) and cinnamon (Cinnamum verum).  A tea made with these common herbs and spices will also be beneficial.  I add a touch of honey to keep this combo palatable.
Brown Flax Seeds.

Flaxseeds make a nice soothing tea

  • Another easily acquired yet less utilized cold and flu remedy is flaxseeds (Linum usitatissiumum).  Check out this link to The Herbwife’s Kitchen.  Go to her section on respiratory system and you will find directions for making flax tea.  After reading this post, I started using the lowly flaxseed for respiratory complaints and I have discovered it is an amazing remedy.
  • Organic Lemons (Citrus limon).  Yes, I splurge on the $1 organic lemon and bake it in shallow dish in the oven til it pops.  I pour a little honey on top and eat as much of the lemon as I would like.  When one partakes in this yellow bioflavonoid bomb it works as a powerful and soothing dose of antioxidants.  I eat the juicy pulp and as much of the peel and the white pith as I can handle because it is all good.
  • Organic Garlic (Allium sativum).  Many people find garlic so effective that they call it an herbal antibiotic.  Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I include garlic in my foods.  I don’t have a problem digesting raw garlic, so I will use this.  It is antiseptic, antiviral, anti-fungal and an expectorant.  This is why it helps prevent colds and flus.  It is also used for acute bronchitis, asthma, allergies, sinusitis and coughs.
  • Organic Onions (Allium cepa).  Onions also have a long history of use as a cold and flu preventative because they are antiseptic, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory.  Herbalist’s like to pour honey over slices of onions and let this sit overnight.  They then strain the honey and take this as an expectorating and antispasmodic cough syrup.
  • Organic Ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a good ol’ diaphoretic, which means it will help one perspire.  Zingiber is also an analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antiseptic, hepatoprotective and expectorant.  I like to simmer a few fresh root slices in a litre of water for a 1/2 hour.  Sometimes I add some cayenne and cinnamon to this decoction.  After that, I add the juice of half a lemon and a little honey.  This is such a pleasant tea, you could serve it any time.
  • Tea (Camellia sinensis) is the world’s most popular beverage (after water) and it contains significant amounts of antioxidant polyphenols.  I have been impressed by green tea’s effectiveness in colds, flus, coughs and fatigue.
  • Organic. Notice a theme here?  Well, when food is your first medicine, you want the best, so go for home grown or organic.  (Not to disappoint you… but… I am human and sometimes I go for the easiest or cheapest and buy the non-organic stuff.  It seems to work alright, but many people report that organic foods are better, especially in times of illness.  I know I feel far better when I use organic foods.)


In the weeks ahead, I will share with you some of my herbal essentials like: an olde favourite that combines elder flower, peppermint and yarrow; sambucus decoction; and yes, echinacea!

And bath essentials to sweat it out: epsom salts, mustard powder, ginger, rosemary leaves and essential oils!

As well, supplements such as: Vitamin D

By: Tammy Schmidt, Montreal

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