My interest in making homemade shrubs and oxymels started slowly and then exploded into a full on obsession that had us drinking gallons of this sweet and tart, nutrient-dense treat all year long.
And it all began with the recipe below. Consider this fair warning!
But let’s back up a bit… what’s a shrub? Oxymel?
Shrubs and oxymels are slightly different variations of a sweetened vinegar-based mixture. The result is a tart and tangy preparation with a sweetness that rounds out the flavors.
A Long History of Use
These preparations have been made for thousands of years — both as delicious beverages and as medicine. The School of Hippocrates recommended oxymels 2,000 years ago as a way to address congested coughs. Vinegar was historically added to water because it inhibited pathogenic growth. I learned from Emily Han in her book Wild Drinks and Cocktails that as long as 4,000 years ago Babylonians were fortifying their water with date and raisin vinegar.
Oxymels tend to be more medicinal in nature and typically involve infusing herbs in vinegar and honey. (Oxymel means “acid honey.”) Shrubs more often include fruit and a sweetener. The word shrub may conjure greenery or a small tree for us plant-focused folks, but this word actually comes from an Arabic syrup, sharbât.
Both vinegar and honey are popular ways to extract the many gifts of herbs. I think of shrubs and oxymels as two nutrient-dense herbal preparations walking that line between medicine and food as medicine.
A Popular Oxymel Recipe
Let’s take Fire Cider as an example. Fire Cider is a traditional herbal preparation that was popularized by Rosemary Gladstar several decades ago. It commonly combines horseradish, ginger, garlic, onions and other herbs with vinegar and honey, and it is technically an oxymel. It can be used to bolster your vitality and keep you healthy, to address symptoms of a cold or flu, or as salad dressing. See? Very versatile!
While Fire Cider is known for its spicy flavor, many shrubs and oxymels are very cooling in nature due to the vinegar content. One of my favorite times to enjoy these drinks is when I am feeling hot and parched after working outside on a warm spring or summer’s day. Shrubs and oxymels quench your thirst and noticeably cool you down.
Hydrate and Nourish
One way to think of your homemade shrubs and oxymels is like a sports drink. But of course that isn’t a very fair comparison. Commercial sports drinks are often filled with artificial coloring and flavors, and they tend to not actually be a healthy drink.
On the other hand, homemade shrubs and oxymels are loaded with the medicinal benefits of the herbs and fruits you use. They often have lots of antioxidants and can be full of other nutrients, such as minerals, which are readily extracted with vinegar. These nutrient-dense herbal drinks also beautifully capture the aromatic qualities of herbs, which means they are often wonderful beverages for digestive health as well.
Let’s take a look at the herbs in the recipe below.
Tulsi Leaf (Ocimum sanctum)
Tulsi, also called holy basil, is a sacred herb in parts of India and in Ayurvedic medicine. Tulsi is quickly growing in popularity in North America as an adaptogenic herb that helps provide mental clarity and soothe the nervous system. Entire books have literally been written about this powerful plant! Tulsi can also modulate the immune system, protect the heart, and promote digestion. To learn more about tulsi, visit the plant profiles section of our community membership site, HerbMentor.
Hibiscus Calyx (Hibisicus sabdariffa)
Originally from Africa, hibiscus is now a treasured plant around the world. It is especially common in the Caribbean where it is referred to as Jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah). We typically work with the calyx of the hibiscus flower, which has a tart taste that turns beverages and foods a deep red color. Hibiscus has many gifts, and it is especially known for protecting heart health.
Dandelion Root (Taraxacum officinale)
Because vinegar excels at extracting minerals from herbs, I often like to include a bit of mineral-rich plants in my oxymel and shrub recipes. Dandelion root is a favorite nutrient-dense root and a famous ally for the liver! It’s loaded with minerals like calcium, manganese, potassium, and more.
Any type of vinegar can be used for these preparations, but I most often reach for apple cider vinegar. It’s plentiful, affordable, and (if you buy the raw unpasteurized vinegar) it’s especially high in beneficial nutrients. As I mentioned, vinegar is cooling in nature and excels at extracting minerals from plants.
Avoid super cheap vinegar that is labeled “apple cider flavored.” I also avoid white distilled vinegar for beverages and instead reserve it for cleaning.
If you do use the raw and unfiltered apple cider vinegar you may see a “mother” develop. This is a harmless gooey blob that can cover the surface of your preparation. It can be removed and composted.
Technically any type of sweetener can be used in a shrub or oxymel. I love honey best because it’s local to me (I can get it directly from my dear friend who lovingly tends to her hives), and because of its many health benefits. Honey can modulate the immune system and is filled with valuable nutrients.
If you don’t use honey you can experiment with other sweeteners of your choosing.
Tulsi and Hibiscus Oxymel
This tangy and sweet, nutrient-dense herbal drink is a wonderful way to refresh after spending time in the sun. I most often like to add 1–2 tablespoons to a glass of sparkling water. It can also be made into fancy cocktails and mocktails. Or, use 1 part oxymel to 2 parts olive oil to make your own delicious salad dressing (e.g., 1 tablespoon oxymel to 2 tablespoons olive oil or to taste).
What you’ll need…
- 3/4 cup dried tulsi leaves finely cut/sifted (20 grams)
- 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus (5 grams)
- 1 tablespoon dried dandelion root (7 grams)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- Add the tulsi, hibiscus, and dandelion roots to a clean pint-sized jar.
- Next add honey. Then fill the jar with apple cider vinegar.
- Cover with a glass or plastic lid (avoid using a metal lid as it will corrode).
- Shake well. After 24 hours open the lid and add more vinegar if necessary.
- Let it steep for 2 weeks, continuing to shake it every day or so. Strain when ready. If you prefer it sweet, you can add more honey to your oxymel at this stage.
- Store in the fridge and use within 6 months. Discard if mold develops.
Now I’d love to hear from you!
Do you already make shrubs and oxymels?
What are some of your favorite combinations?
Please share in the comments below.