The winter holiday season is the time of year to gather with your beloveds to share stories, gifts, and good food and drink. Tea is my favorite drink all year round, but many people enjoy something a little stronger. Did you know that you can reap the health benefits of herbal teas in the form of grown-up cocktails and elixirs?* Unique flavors and aromas combined with positive effects on your body and mind make drinks with friends into a truly memorable experience. These also make great holiday gifts. Bottle up your creations in vintage brown bottles, write the ingredients on a little card that also lists some of the health benefits, and you will surely be making the holidays more merry and bright.
*(These recipes are only intended for people over 21 years old)
The process of making holiday herbal elixirs is quite simple: herbs and spices are soaked in spirits (vodka, brandy, etc.) for a period of a few hours, for very strong flavors, and up to several weeks, and then strained out of the liquid and discarded. Other ingredients are sometimes added to this liquid to add sweetness. The final product is bottled and labeled, to be stored as you would any fine liqueur.
There are a few things you will need in your kitchen, if you don’t have them already.
For every recipe, you will need a 2 quart glass mason jar or a canning jar with a rubber ring snap closure.
A fine mesh strainer
A wide fine mesh strainer will help you separate the finished liquid from the herbs and spices that were soaking in it. The finer the mesh in your strainer, the clearer your finished product will be. A few floating particles never hurt anyone, but you don’t want a mouthful of leaves in every sip.
Optional – a 12”x12” square of unbleached cotton muslin cloth or a nut milk bag
You can line your strainer with cotton or a nut milk bag to catch fine particles that might get through the strainer. When you collect the leftover herbs and spices in cloth, you can squeeze out the remaining liquid that has been soaked up by the leaves.
Fun glass bottles for your finished product
Dark brown bottles create a cool vintage look. You can also use swing top bottles; these are bottles that have a rubber stopper attached to the top of the bottle with a metal latch.
Surprises are fun, but when it comes to ingestible products, it’s better to skip the surprise and list the ingredients, both for interest and for safety, in the case of a potential allergy. Guidelines for labeling include a name for your creation, the ingredients, and the date. You can also list some of the health benefits of the elixir.
High quality ingredients
Choose the best spirits that you can get on your budget, and use the fresh organic herbs, teas, and spices. The quality of your finished product is as good as the ingredients you use to make it, so use the best.
Your basic preparation instructions are to fill a jar 1/3 full with dried botanical ingredients, and 2/3 full of spirit. Check your concoction after an hour or so and give it a good shake. Shaking helps release the flavors and will give you a better tasting finished product. After the soaking period (several hours to several weeks) you will strain out the liquid, add any other ingredients for flavor or sweetness, and store in a labeled dark glass bottle.
You must allow your herb and tea ingredients to soak in the spirit base (meaning vodka, brandy, etc) for at least several hours, and as long as a few weeks. The longer the ingredients soak in the spirits, the stronger the flavor. A short soak will extract subtle flavors and aromas; a longer one will extract more medicinal compounds.
If you’re making an herbal tincture for healing purposes, let the botanical ingredients soak for a few weeks. If your intention is simply to create beverages with benefits, taste the concoction as it steeps and strain out the botanicals once you have a good flavor. Dip a clean spoon inside the jar and taste a few drops. If all you taste is the spirit, then keep soaking and try again later, until you’ve got a good flavor and aroma.
The proportions in these recipes are guidelines that you can adjust to suit your preferences. You might have to adjust the ratio of herb/tea to spirit. The dried botanicals will absorb the liquid and swell up over the first hour or so, which is fine, as long as the botanicals are suspended in the liquid. If they absorb all of the liquid and the result is a jar of wet herbs, you need to add more spirit so that the tea ingredients are suspended in the solution.
Cherry Vanilla Rose Cordial
Short days, long nights, and overcast skies can cause some people to feel blue during the winter. This is a fragrant and mood-boosting blend of rose, black tea and vanilla, with a hint of sweet cherries. It contains plenty of antioxidants from both the black tea and rooibos. Vanilla is naturally antidepressant, as is rose, which is associated with love and positive emotions. Enjoy a sip as a natural mood booster.
You will need:
- 2 ounces Cherry Bomb tea
- Rose hydrosol
- Organic maple syrup
- Optional – 2 organic vanilla beans, split lengthwise
Place the Cherry Bomb and vanilla beans (if you’re using them) in the mason jar and completely cover it with your favorite vodka. Let it soak at least an hour and shake it up. Add more vodka if the tea soaks up all the liquid. At the end of the soaking period, strain out the tea and discard it (or put it in the compost pile). Try to wring out as much liquid from the tea leaves as possible.
For every cup of tea-infused vodka, add 1/4 cup rose hydrosol and 1/4 cup maple syrup. Feel free to adjust the amounts of maple syrup and rosewater to suit your tastebuds. Sip from a small glass as is, or over ice with a splash of cream.
Many people feel rundown and exhausted in the winter, from the extra bustle and activity of the holidays, shorter days, and long nights. This tonic blend is made from herbs that build energy, health and vitality, and nourish your body from the inside out. Adults of all ages will benefit from this elixir, and people over 40 will gain the most benefit. I’ve listed the benefits of every ingredient so that you know what a powerhouse this recipe is.
You will need:
- 2 tablespoons ginger (for circulation and digestion)
- 2 tablespoons he shou wu (for energy and youthfulness)
- 2 tablespoons astragalus (for immune support)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon (for blood sugar and cholesterol balance)
- 1 tablespoon goji berries (for energy and overall health)
- 1 tablespoon hawthorn berries (nourishes and supports the heart)
- 1 tablespoon sarsaparilla (natural detox)
- 1 tablespoon rhodiola (for endurance, energy, and memory)
- 1 tablespoon chaga (for immune support, anticarcinogenic)
- 1 tablespoon turmeric (for inflammation and liver health)
- ½ tablespoon licorice (to relieve inflammation)
- 1 large piece of reishi mushroom (for immune health, anticarcinogenic)
- Black cherry concentrate
Blend the herbs together in a large bowl, then transfer to the steeping jar. Cover the herbs in brandy and give it a good shake. Check on it after an hour or so, and add more brandy if necessary. Let the herbs steep in the brandy for several days, the longer, the better with this recipe. At the end of the soaking period, strain out the tea and discard it (or put it in the compost pile).
Try to wring out as much liquid from the herbs as possible. If you have a potato ricer, you will be able to squeeze a lot more liquid out of the botanicals. For every finished cup of extract, add 1/4 cup black cherry concentrate (NOT black cherry juice, or frozen juice concentrate). Rebottle and label. Sip 1 – 2 tablespoons of this rich elixir daily straight up, over ice, or mixed into sparkling water with a splash of juice.
Throughout the world, indigenous cultures believed that winter was the season for dreaming. In this recipe, you will be blending a light and fragrant herbal tea with a reputation for promoting lucid dreams, into crisp white wine. The ingredients in this tea include the light floral flavors of chamomile and lavender, with the herbal aromas of rosemary and marjoram, refreshingly unique damiana, and earthy, slightly bitter mugwort. Steep the tea in the wine long enough to extract the light flavors but not so long that the botanicals overwhelm the wine.
The addition of a little citrus will add a hint of bright sweetness but not clash or dominate. The main benefit this light drink provides is a feeling of relaxation. It also soothes digestion, and can provide relief from bloating after a heavy meal. Sipping on this concoction several times a week can help strengthen the nervous system, and, if the lore is true, might stimulate your intuition and intensify your dreams.
You will need:
- A bottle of your favorite dry white wine
- 1 – 2 ounces Dreaming True tea
- Optional – a few slices of organic sweet oranges
Soak Dreaming True tea in the white wine as described in the above recipes. Let it steep from several hours to several days, and strain once you can taste and smell the refreshing aromas. Strain and store in the refrigerator. Enjoy a glass in the evening, and keep a dream journal by your bed to record your dreams in the morning.
Stay happy and healthy this holiday season!