I absolutely love the old fashioned way of making herbal remedies. Jars of herbs soaking in vinegar or alcohol line my counter each summer and the results fill my herbal pantry. Just because I love the old ways doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled to find new technology to help me make outstanding herbal remedies. In fact, sometimes the marriage between old and new thrills me more than either on its own can, especially when the results are just as good if not better than past experiments.
This spring, I experimented with Instant Pot in making my oxymels. An oxymel is an old-fashioned remedy that helps clear dampness from your respiratory system. It’s particularly useful after you’ve had a cold or flu and still have that lingering runny nose or chest congestion that’s productive. Oxymels are also outstanding for hay fever and allergies that create the same kinds of damp and runny conditions in your respiratory system.
To make a good oxymel, you need an herbal vinegar and honey. Honey is mildly drying to the respiratory system. Local, raw honeys are tailored by the bees to the region or environment where they live, including a lot of the anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties specific to the bacteria and molds growing in their region. For us, that makes local, raw honey one of the best medicines for fighting off allergies and clearing out colds, flus, and the bacteria that accumulate in the bronchi after them. Vinegar is particularly good at extracting the vitamins and minerals from plants–the stuff that helps your body rebuild while the sweet and sour of the honey and vinegar dry your system.
The oxymel formulas I use for allergies and cold/flu recovery are aimed at fortifying the body as much as possible with herbs like nettle, oatstraw, raspberry leaf, and dandelion. I usually infuse those herbs as singles into vinegar over the course of months, letting the vinegar work at breaking down the cellular structure of each plant and extract the nutrients and healing properties thoroughly.
This spring, I’d used up all of my dandelion vinegar helping my family recover from a late winter flu that trailed off into runny respiratory symptoms. The Oxymel we took helped cut our recovery time to about half what I saw other folks needing, so it was well worth the sacrifice…but…Allergy season arrived early, and I didn’t want to wait the time it’d take to make more dandelion vinegar the old fashioned way. That’s where Instant Pot’s pressure cooking prowess helped.
Pressure Cooking Herbs
Pressure cooking breaks down the cellular structure of plant material quickly. Normally it takes vinegar a month or more to open the cells and extract the vitamins and minerals in the herbs, but when you begin with a bit of pressure cooking you compress that time into a matter of a day or two. I used Instant Pot primarily because it’s quiet and it makes pressure cooking super easy. You could just as easily use a standard pressure cooker or you could pack canning jars with your herbs and vinegar and use a pressure canner to can them for the same results. Pressure cooking turned out to be a powerful modern solution for making a potent herbal vinegar fast!
Tips for Pressure Cooking and Oxymels
As you’re designing your own oxymels and looking for simple and powerful tools to create them, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
- To make best use of Honey’s powerful nutrition and medicine, avoid heating it. That means you’ll add the honey after you’ve pressure cooked your vinegar and herbs, not before.
- Use raw, local honey if at all possible. The other stuff may be nice for cooking, but the raw, local kind will have far more healing qualities tailored to your environment, which will boost the power of your oxymel or other herbal remedies.
- Choose herbs that are robust with vitamins and minerals, especially those that do well with heat. The same kinds of herbs you’d use in a good quality bone broth, for instance, are good choices. Often, herbs that aren’t seaweed but are classified as salty by Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, or Traditional Western Herbalism are chock-full of nutrients that will be well-extracted by heat and pressure.
- Choose a potent vinegar. If you’re making it using store-bought vinegar, be sure it’s as natural as possible and contains no additives, such as coloring. If you can use Raw Cider Vinegar, reserve some to add at the end for the nutrients and healing properties that will be destroyed in the pressure cooking or heating process.
- Read the instructions for your pressure cooker or pressure canner thoroughly and follow them!
If you’d like more information on the basic process for making an oxymel, check out The Practical Herbalist. They’ve got a terrific how-to and a few recipes to get you started. If you want to just jump right in, here’s my recipe for a good, basic Oxymel for Allergy Relief or Recovery after Flu and Colds.
Candace’s Instant Allergy Relief Oxymel Recipe
I used an Instant Pot for the pressure cooking part of this process. You can use a standard pressure cooker or a pressure canner just as easily. If you choose the pressure canner, put the ingredients into glass canning jars and cap them as if you were planning to can them. Set your pressure cooker or canner to 10 pounds pressure. (Instant Pot pressure cooks at about 11 pounds pressure automatically.)
When I use raw apple cider vinegar or other raw vinegars (like my homemade plum or grape vinegar), I set aside 1 cup of the vinegar to include when I add the honey. Raw vinegars contain a lot of healing properties that are destroyed in the heating process, so setting some aside to be added cool preserves those properties. You can use any vinegar you like, although I recommend avoiding straight white vinegar because it’s a grain-based product and can have a more harsh quality.
If you don’t have access to fresh dandelion tops, you can substitute 80 grams (3 ounces) of dried dandelion tops.
- 120 grams (4 ounces) fresh dandelion tops
- 80 grams (3 ounces) dried dandelion root
- 20 grams (1 ounce) dried nettle tops
- 1 liter (4 cups) vinegar
- 1/2 cup (approximately 120 ml) raw, local honey (up to 1 cup/240 ml if you like your oxymels sweet)
- Measuring cups
- Glass bowl or jar that can hold about 8 cups/2 liters (with lid or any sort of cover)
- Instant Pot (5 quart/5 liter or larger) or similar pressure cooker
- Spoon for stirring
- Glass quart jar with plastic lid or plastic-wrapped standard lid
- Label and pen
- Add the herbs and vinegar to your Instant Pot or pressure cooker.
- Following the directions for your pot, pressure cook the mixture for 25 minutes (at approximately 10-11 pounds pressure).
- When the pressure cooking is done, allow the pressure to release naturally for at least 10 minutes, then release the pressure by opening the vent or cooling the pressure canner using cold water or another method that’s appropriate to your pot.
- Pour the mixture into a glass jar or bowl with a cover.
- When the mixture has cooled to body temperature or lower, add the honey (and any remaining vinegar if you’d reserved any).
- Cover the mixture and let it stand overnight.
- The next day, strain the plant material from the liquid and pour the liquid into a glass jar with a plastic or rubber lid.
- Compost the plant material and label the jar.
You can use oxymel as a salad dressing, in greens, or to flavor other foods. It can also make a nice shrub or drink mixer. I drink about an ounce straight-up daily through allergy season or as long as my respiratory system feels damp and congested.
Do not take oxymel when you have a dry cough, dry nasal passages or sinuses, or are suffering other dry conditions in your respiratory system.