Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back to My Roots, Part I: Ginger Syrup

I have been interested in herbal medicine ever since I found a copy of Jeanne Rose's Herbs & Things (copyright 1972) on my mom's bookshelf back in high school (I still have that book, complete with yellowed 1973 and 1974 clippings from Organic Farming and Gardening magazine pressed between its pages).  I would definitely have been a midwife and local witch if I had lived a couple hundred years ago (don't ask me why modern health care professions, with no danger of being burned at the stake, hold zero appeal for me).  I once took a class in herbalism and I used to grow and gather my own herbs and make tinctures, infusions, balms and teas.  One year I even gave herbal preparations as Christmas gifts (to bewildered and likely not very appreciative recipients).

Like many things in life, though, once I had kids herbalism was relegated to an unused back cupboard of my life (actually, a plastic tote in the basement, from which I recently discarded 10+ year-old herbs and potions).  A combination of the lack of time and exhaustion of early motherhood, and a heart condition M was born with that relegated him to prescription medicine for the first 10 months of his life, effectively indoctrinating me into the world of pharmaceuticals, pushed my interest in herbs to the wayside.

Although I still tried to stick to natural remedies when possible, it became much easier to visit the chiropractor or buy a bottle of homeopathic tablets or pre-made tinctures, teas and balms than to grow, harvest and prepare medicines myself.  A few weeks ago, though, M lay in bed with a dry cough that kept him (and me) awake.  I got up and prepared my mom's go-to cough syrup (which I loved as a child and still swear by):  honey, lemon juice and whiskey, in roughly equal proportions, warmed slightly.  It did the trick, though M, half-asleep, appeared horror-stricken that I gave him alcohol (just a tiny smidge, I assure you, and mostly evaporated off in the heating process) and I thought to myself, as I have every time I've had a child with a cough, "I should make some ginger syrup."  I've never followed through on that though, until now.  

We had made ginger syrup in that herbalism class I took many years ago, but I could not find any notes on it so I had to wing it.  I didn't measure anything, so I can't give you exact amounts here, but I don't think you can mess it up.

Grate two whole ginger roots and place in a sauce pan.
Cover with water (approx. 2-3 cups).
Simmer gently for about an hour, reducing the liquid by about half.
Strain and discard ginger.
Combine warm liquid with 1/2 - 1 cup honey.
Place in clean jars and store in the refrigerator (I don't know how long it lasts!).

This rather imprecise method made enough to fill three four-ounce jars plus a couple of tablespoons.



I had a chance to test it that very night, as M once again was coughing in bed.  I gave him one spoonful--his eyes popped out of his head from the spiciness--and an extra pillow and heard only one more cough before he fell asleep.  We have fortunately not needed to try it again, but it will be handy when we do.

Ginger has a stimulating and expectorant action in the lungs and relieves coughs and chest infections.  It also is warming in the winter, restoring well-being and vitality.  Honey, my doctor friend told me, is the most effective cough medicine in children. Ginger also stimulates and aids digestion and relieves nausea and vomiting, so our syrup will also come in handy with any upset tummies this winter.

Come back tomorrow for a recipe for flower tea and a February giveaway!

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Edited 2/9/11:  I've been giving a dose of this syrup to M almost nightly for the last week, when he wakes up coughing (and coughing and coughing)...and it seems to be working great!  I will add, though, that it seems a bit thin, and not quite syrupy in consistency, so I'd recommend reducing the liquid more and/or adding more honey.

1 comment:

Rachael Levy said...

I've made elderberry syrup by reducing dried berries and adding honey, but I didn't think it was any better than honey on a spoon. Now, ginger syrup -- with the other benefits you list -- sounds like it's worth the effort. Thank you for the recipe.

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