I was excited to come across this stall at the Farmers' Market last weekend. Medicinal honeys! Bee Humble Apitherapy are collecting honey from their bees and infusing it with herbs, to create some really interesting products.
The proper term for a herbal honey is an Oxymel, and I'm finding myself more and more drawn to them. The Jujubes I immersed in honey have been in the fridge for some weeks now, and the jar is almost empty, after a nasty flu bug went round my son's class and he started finding it drizzled over his porridge, spooned into herb teas to take cold to school and poured onto pancakes.
Honey on its own, of course, has some very interesting anti-microbial properties and has been held in such high esteem that since pre-history, people have risked their lives to collect it. It's human nature to be drawn to sweet things, but there is a big difference between a high quality raw honey and a spoonful of sugar. The sugars in honey are highly complex and it also contains anti-oxidants.
The honeys at the market were infused with a variety of herbs. I was particularly taken with the Elderberry one, which is an excellent idea: combining the anti-viral properties of the berry with the anti-bacterial honey has to make for a very useful winter spread. Likewise Sage makes a lot of sense - my quick remedy for a sore throat is sage (of whatever type is growing nearby) tea with a good dollop of honey. I also really liked their Ginger and Siberian Ginseng honey, which I think would make a great pick-me-up for anyone who has been unwell or under stress. I was intrigued by the Yerba Santa version - it's a new herb for me. The Spanish name means 'Holy Herb' and it was prized by the native peoples and settlers as an expectorant - it's a local herb here and one I want to get to know.
Local honeys are very helpful in preventing and treating Hay fever and seasonal allergies. The idea being that the bee-processed flower pollens 'inoculate' against inhaled pollens, many people find it very effective, especially if taken ahead of the allergy season. I often recommend it alongside herbal tinctures of Elderflower and/or Plantain and Nettle. It would be interesting to infuse a honey with some or all of those herbs to create a kind of all-in-one hayfever prevention remedy. I shall try it next summer.
If you want to make a herbal honey yourself, simply chop up the herb, preferably fresh, though dried will work too, as finely as you can and pour enough honey over to cover the herb. Then let it infuse for a few weeks. Garlic makes a pungent version which will see off any winter bugs (not to mention vampires and most of your friends and family). If you use a fresh herb, it's best to keep it in the fridge (as I did with the jujubes) as water in the herb can dilute the honey reducing it's 'supersaturatedness' and therefore making it more likely to go off.
As a professional herbalist, I will always prefer tinctures for their efficacy, ease of blending and convenience of use. But for the home herbalist, and particularly for mums and dads, I think honeys should definitely have a place in your herb cupboard. Children love them, they have no alcohol and they're a really effective way of using nature's medicine chest to keep you and those you love healthy.
If you'd like to take a look at Bee Humble's website, it's at http://www.beehumbleapiaries.com.