Oxymel… what an odd word. The etymology of the word actually gives us the basic recipe for this ancient medicine. The root for oxymel is found in the ancient Greek word ὀξύμελι (oxúmeli) and in the Late Latin word oxymeli meaning “acid and honey”. Oxymels are known by other names, too. The Finnish herbalist Henriette Kress notes that Oxymel simplex and Mel acetatum are synonyms, and in his 1958 book, Folk Medicine: A New England Almanac of Natural Health Care from a Noted Vermont Country Doctor, D.C. Jarvis, M.D. coined the phrase honegar (honey + vinegar).
What is an oxymel? These ancient medicines have their origins in Persia and Greece. According to Persian history, there were over 1,200 different formulas for making oxymels. Squill oxymel was being recommended as far back as 7th century A.D. by Paulus Aegineta, and can still be found in pharmaceutical textbooks such as Martindale and British Pharmacopeia today. Yes, oxymels are very old, very good medicine.
Medicinal Benefits of Oxymels
- As a base for medicated expectorant syrups, like Garlic Oxymel
- Cooling febrifuge (reduces fevers)
- Soothes a sore throat when used as a gargle (very diluted)
- Expectorant (loosens phlegm from the lungs and respiratory tract to open the airways)
The two main ingredients are acid (apple cider vinegar/ACV) and honey. Basic oxymels are a super-simple, easy-to-make formula with many add-in variations that allow for it to address a variety of health issues. So, any combination of these two ingredients, no matter what is added in, becomes an oxymel. For example, Fire Cider is an oxymel, as are some salad vinaigrettes and sipping vinegars.
There are several ways to combine your herbs, spices, fruit, vegetables, ACV, and honey to make an oxymel.
General Notes on Making Oxymels
Use raw, local honey and raw (unpasteurized) ACV with “the mother” if at all possible.
The ratio of plants to ACV or honey should be around 1:3 or 1:4. This means, one part plants to 3 or 4 parts of the liquid. No measuring needed, here. For the folk-method, you can guesstimate by filling your jar a little less than 1/4 full with plants and pour the liquid over to cover by about two inches. Make sure your jar is large enough for shaking later. In general, steep for 4 weeks or longer.
The ACV to honey ratio you choose will depend upon how sweet or how tart you prefer your medicine. A ratio of 5 parts honey to 1 part vinegar will be quite sweet; while 3 parts vinegar to 1 part honey will be quite tart. Anything in between is just fine. I prefer one part honey to one part vinegar. That is a pleasant sweet/tart flavor balance for me.
Oxymel Making Procedure 1: Steep Separately
- Combine your healing plants in a bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Divide your plant matter between two jars
- Add slightly warmed honey to one jar and ACV to the other
- Let steep separately.
- Strain the ACV jar
- Warm slightly and strain the honey jar
- Add the strained ACV
- Cap, shake, label and store in cool, dark place. Can be refrigerated.
Oxymel Making Procedure 2: Quick Vinegar Reduction
- This method works well for hearty herbs, roots, bark, seeds; and not so much for delicate or aromatic herbs.
- Place plant matter into a saucepan.
- Add double the amount of ACV you want to have for your formula.
- Simmer over very low heat until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Strain, cool, and add to your honey in the ratio you choose.
- Bottle, label, and store in cool, dark place or refrigerator.
Oxymel Making Procedure 3: Stir, Steep, Strain
- Add desired plant matter to a jar
- Lightly warm the honey and combine with ACV in preferred ratio
- Pour over herbs, cap, and shake
- Let steep for chosen length of time.
- Strain, bottle, label, and store in cool, dark place or refrigerator.
How to Use Oxymels
Oxymels are similar to concentrates. Some folks take it straight-up from the spoon. Most prefer to place 1-3 teaspoons in a cup of warm water or herbal tea to enjoy.
Contraindications and Precautions of Oxymel Use
According to Paul Pitchford’s book Healing with Whole Foods, these concerns should be taken into consideration:
- Do not take with weak digestion indicated by watery stools.
- Do not take if especially frail.
- Do not take with generalized muscle weakness.
- Do not take with rheumatism.
- Do not take alone for long periods of time.
Basic Any-Berry Oxymel Recipe
Ingredients (for 1-quart jar):
- 1-2 cups of any single berry or combination of berries such as blueberries, cherries, elderberries (especially great for cold and flu season), mulberries, strawberries, etc.
- Any spice or herb combination (to taste) to add warmth and flavor such as basil, citrus zest, fennel seeds, ginger, hyssop, any of the mints, thyme, rosemary, etc.
- Raw ACV
- Raw, local honey
Choose your procedure preference. If using The Quick Vinegar Reduction method, add your tender, aromatic herbs near the end of the reduction to preserve their fragrant, medicinal qualities. Enjoy!
Golden Citrus Fire Cider Oxymel Recipe
I make at least one batch of Fire Cider each year; and every year the formula is different. This is my own original formula from the 2018 cold and flu season. Here’s a handy printable label.
- Raw ACV
- Raw, local honey
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1 blood orange, zested and juiced
- 6-8 turmeric roots or powdered root
- 8-10 garlic cloves
- 1 onion, medium-large
- 3-inch piece horseradish root
- 4-6 chili peppers with seeds
- 2 tablespoons poblano pepper seeds (saved from other kitchen projects)
- 1 tablespoon whole allspice
- Zest, juice and roughly chop all fruits, vegetables, and roots
- I get the fine-chop of my vegetables and herbs by putting the roughly chopped veggies in small batches in the blender with some of the vinegar and pulse until I like the size.
- Pour into a bowl and continue until all vegetables are chopped finely
- Divide between 2-quart jars
- Pour ACV in to cover vegetables by 2-3 inches
- Place plastic wrap or waxed paper over the jar opening and finger tighten the cap
- Place in a cool, dark place
- Check and shake daily for 4-6 weeks or longer
- Strain and measure the fire cider
- Add an equal amount of slightly warmed honey to the fire cider and now you have an oxymel!
- Bottle, label, store in cool, dry place or refrigerator
Elderflower Oxymel Recipe
Elderflowers are well known for their usefulness during cold and flu season as a tea. This might be a nice addition to your apothecary shelf for the winter months.
- Raw ACV
- Raw, local honey
- Elderflowers (Sambucus spp.), wilted or dried
Because of the fragility of the flowers, I recommend the Stir, Steep, Strain method for this formula
For this last recipe, let me say that I was surprised to find such an old recipe with such easily found, common-today ingredients. The original recipe makes a huge batch of oxymel! I’m thinking about making up one-tenth of the volume of the formula and giving it a try. I would be interested to hear what your experience is with this very ancient remedy.
Sikanjabin al-buzuri is an ancient oxymel formula found in The Book of Gharabadin Salehi. Used to “relieve fever and gastritis”. Considered “diuretic” and is beneficial “for hepatic obstructions”.
- 4.5 kg. (approx. 19 3/4 c.) wine vinegar
- 9 kg. (approx. 39 2/3 c.) water
- 90 g. (approx. 3.17 oz.) root peels of fennel
- 90 g. (approx. 3.17 oz.) fennel seeds
- 90 g. (approx. 3.17 oz.) anise
- 90 g. (approx. 3.17 oz.) celery
*According to Avicenna (980AD – 1037AD), the most famous and influential of all the Islamic philosopher-scientists, honey and sugar-candy are interchangeable.
“Wine vinegar and water were mixed together and then combined with root peels of fennel, celery, fennel seeds, and anise. After a day the mixture is reduced on a mild fire until one-sixth of it remains. Then sugar-candy with half of the total weight is added to the mixture and boiled on a mild fire until half of the syrup remains.” (The Book of Gharabadin Salehi, lithograph 1776, pp 171-173)
While the benefits of the oxymel may seem incredible, it’s stunning simplicity is what allows this folk medicine to be so easy to make and use.
***Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. There is no licensure for herbalists. The material presented in this article is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by healthcare professionals.
“Make Infused Vinegar at Home for Gourmet Flavor on the Cheap”, Kris Bordessa (2019)
“Drink to Your Health!”, D.K. Osborn (2015)
“Making Floral Oxymels”, Elaine Sheff (2019)
“Oxymel in Medieval Persia”, Arman Zargaran, et al (2012)