Saturday, October 10, 2009

Making Our Own Herbal Remedies

Today, our pumpkin patch trip got postponed because of the bad weather, but we didn't let that ruin our day! Instead, we worked on a little math and a little writing, then we started making some of our herbal medicines.
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Sound hard? Naw, it's not really. It doesn't take any special fancy equipment. The kids can help!
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My introduction to natural remedies came from my Grandmother when I was a child. For boo-boos and stings, she would snap off a piece of her aloe vera plant. Once at her house, I had a toothache, and she used a jar of clove oil to soothe it. She used honey to quieten coughs.
A few years ago, around the time our third child was born, I began looking more into the "old ways" of doing things. It started with small things, like using steam and eucalyptus oil for stuffy noses rather than reaching for a decongestant. Or using a few drops of warmed olive oil for an earache. I discovered how things like garlic and apple cider vinegar benefit our health. I had always believed in the healing powers of plants, but I became seriously interested in learning more about natural remedies. I gathered knowledge gradually, here and there, little bits at a time. Then a few months ago, I came across a website called There were all sort of remedies on there that seemed simple enough to try, and I discovered that they were very helpful to us. Things like grating ginger root to make tea, I knew I could handle. But stuff like making salves and tinctures? Me? I wasn't so sure about that.
I finally got around to ordering the medicine-making kit, and I really like this kit. I've found it to be a very simple, straightforward way to get started. In the past few days, I've started an echinacea tincture, a cough remedy of honey infused with elecampane root, and made some salve using calendula, plantain, comfrey, and St. John's Wort. It's a springboard to learn about other herbs that might benefit us and how to use them. But the thing I like most is making our own elderberry syrup!
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You might be wondering why I would even want to make my own remedies.
Have you seen this in the news this past week? Elderberry flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. According to this study, elderberry syrup is as effective as Tamiflu. Without side effects.
Can I just say I'm not really surprised? For a couple years now, whenever I've given my kids elderberry and/or echinacea at the first sign of sniffles and scratchy throats, we've gotten through whatever it is relatively quickly and without it turning into anything worse.
The downside for us using elderberry syrup has been that it's something I have to drive a distance to get, or I have to order it online and wait. And the stuff is expensive! Recently, when Gem began sniffling and sounding scratchy, I needed some quickly. The nearest health food store to me (a small "mom" place, about a 10 mile drive) carried a 4oz bottle of elderberry syrup for $16. Ouch. I normally order Herbs for Kids through Frontier for $7 a bottle, but they were out of stock. Even if it were in stock, waiting a week for it to get here would have given the cold an opportunity to take hold...and possibly turn nasty. The last time I didn't start my elderberry regimen on Gem (I'm sure it was because I thought we were too broke at the time), she developed pneumonia, and we had to get a shot at the doctor's office.
What's a mama to do when she knows what works? I weighed the cost of the bottle of elderberry against the cost and inconvenience of a doctor visit and prescriptions, and I went with the $16 elderberry. I knew there had to be a better way. And I've discovered that there is. I can make it myself.

Here is a simple elderberry syrup recipe. Easy peasy. It will keep in the fridge for 4-6 weeks. I ordered a pound of dried elderberries through Frontier, but you will also find a link to ordering them on this recipe page.

I prefer the recipe that calls for a cinnamon stick, 5 cloves, and 1 tsp of grated ginger, but I couldn't find the link to it. Anyway, that's what I make. A batch of elderberry syrup following this recipe makes us a little over 12 oz of syrup. I decided to break the cost down and see how much it costs per batch to make it myself.
Elderberries = I paid $6.50 for one pound, which will make 8 batches. So that's $0.81 per batch. (Next year, I will harvest the ones that grow wild around here. Then it will be even cheaper.)
Honey = To get the local raw honey, I paid about $5 for 2 cups. So there's $2.50 per batch.
Cinnamon sticks = I counted roughly 100 in the bag, at $4.50 a bag, so I'm just gonna say $0.05 apiece.
Cloves = I paid $2.90 for a bottle of cloves. I used 5. There is still a whole bottle left. I'm just gonna guestimate a penny there.
Ginger root = Less than $3 for a piece of ginger root. I'm just guessing that it will make about 20-30 batches, maybe more. We'll just say $0.10 a batch.
So that adds up to...drum roll...approximately $3.50 for 12 oz. of homemade syrup, as opposed to anywhere from $7-16 for 4 oz. of store-bought. There ya go. That's one good reason to make it myself. Honey, ginger root, and cinnamon sticks are things that I keep on hand and use frequently anyway, in cooking and other remedies. So this is a very cost-effective syrup for us.
Another good reason is knowing exactly what's in it. The syrup I made is full of good stuff. Honey has many health benefits, including being an anti-microbial. Ginger, cinnamon, and cloves are warming and have other health benefits. The store-bought stuff is sweetened with fructose. And you have to add some sort of preservative when something is sitting on the shelf like that for a long time. Homemade doesn't have preservatives.
The homemade version tastes better, too. I would eat it on my pancakes. In fact, if it didn't have any health benefits, it would still be a good alternative to the high fructose corn syrup stuff they sell in the stores to put on your pancakes.

(Disclaimer--I know you've got common sense, right? Don't let anything I've said here override your good judgment. We have no immune disorders, allergies, or other health problems. I'm just sharing what we do because it works for us. The information I've shared here is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice you receive from your healthcare provider.)


  1. This is a great read, it bears out a other go. GreAt blog. Cudos!!!

  2. Yeah! Im so happy about this post! Wish I could have been there with you. Ill have to get some tips from you!

  3. Hey Paula, I've been meaning to say how much I enjoyed this mom used to make me lemon/honey tea when i was sick as a kid, but had never thought about the ginger! well, of course, not too long after reading this post my family started getting sick...i ran out for some elderberry syrup (wish i knew where to buy elderberries here. need to research that!) and the ingredients for the ginger/lemon/honey tea. my husband, niamh, and i all really enjoy the tea. in i went out and bought one of those insulated coffee pots to keep the tea in. as well as a thermos so my husband can take the tea to work with him. he was THRILLED (really)! he's a total addict. :) anyway, a long winded way to say thanks for the fabulous tips!