As Mary Poppins so rightly said, “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” And of course, the most important part of her wise proclamation was that it does so, “in the most delightful way.” In a world full of capsules, tablets and tinctures, I am all for a way of taking our “medicine” (and by medicine I mean things that protect and promote our vitality) that is actually delightful to take and makes us forget about the idea that something taken medicinally must be auxiliary to our normal life, and unpleasant at that. As Hippocrates said, “let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food.” In other words, let your medicine be a nurturing part of your daily life; let your medicine be delightful.
While I might not agree that simply diluting the unpleasant flavors of medicinal things with white sugar to trick one’s palate is necessarily a good thing, I am impelled with the idea of incorporating a little sweetness into the things we use daily for medicine, for health. After all, the flavor of sweet is considered by most traditional systems of healing (TCM and Ayurveda, for example) to be deeply nurturing, calming and relaxing to the body, mind and spirit. Associated with love, the nurturing bond between mother and child and the simple, innocent joys of being alive – we have all instinctively reached for this flavor when we require a little of those things to comfort our weary spirits and soothe our frayed nerves.
Thus, these sweet qualities seem to me a perfect match for the soothing and relaxing properties of summer’s flowers. Relaxing chamomile and linden; uplifting lavender; heart opening rose: what more delightful way could one capture these delicate, sweet and ephemeral flowers than in the nurturing sweetness of honey?
For such a medicine as this, I choose flowers which are medicinal as well as delicious tasting and aromatic (which includes most all flowers, really). I particularly love making honey with the following flowers because their medicine is especially sweet:
- Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - Chamomile has been used for over 2000 years to relieve tension in both mind and body. It relaxes and soothes the nervous system; calming anxiety, easing sleep and reducing signs of physical tension. As a digestive panacea, it strengthens and balances digestive function and can be used to soothe inflammation, reduce cramping and ease gas and bloating – especially when nervous tension is a causative factor. Topically and internally, it soothes irritated membranes with its moist and cool properties and strong anti-inflammatory action. I find it particularly useful for people who are “hyper-reactive” to their world, whether physically in the form of allergies, rashes and digestive disturbances, or emotionally in the form of irritability, anger or anxiety when dealing with stress and challenges. The sweet apple fragrance pairs delightfully with honey and is the perfect thing for soothing and quieting that reactiveness – I think of it as being for the irritable child in us all.
- Lavender (Lavendula officinalis): Lavender has been beloved for thousands of years for its delightful, soothing fragrance. The cooling flowers have a centering yet uplifting effect on the nervous system – relieving anxiety and other manifestations of nervous tension while simultaneously improving mood, concentration and focus by enhancing blood flow in the brain. They have a similarly relaxing yet stimulating effect on the digestion, relaxing smooth muscles and easing cramping, gas and bloating, while stimulating digestive secretions with their mild bitterness - especially useful for a sluggish digestive tract. The strong anti-inflammatory effects have a wide range of applications internally and topically, from protecting the cardiovascular system from oxidative damage to soothing burns and speeding the healing time of cuts and wounds. I find lavender especially useful for those in whom tension tends to create stagnation and stuckness, known in TCM as Qi stagnation (when the flow of vital life force is blocked or impaired). It gets things moving, but in a relaxing and opening way.
- Linden (Tilia spp.): Sweet smelling linden flowers come from a stately tree that grows throughout Europe and North America. The flowers are cool and moist, with a soothing sweetness that calms the nervous system and eases away tension while gladdening the spirits. Linden has a particular affinity for the heart, as evidenced by its heart shaped leaves. The high bioflavanoid content tones and protects the capillary walls from oxidative damage, while the relaxing effects of the plant open the blood vessel walls, easing symptoms of hypertension and protecting the heart on many levels from stress. The flowers also have strong anti-viral effects helpful in colds and flues, where they can reduce a fever through their diaphoretic action. Their mucilage gives them a moistening quality, helping to soothe irritated membranes inside and out. Linden honey, made from bees who feed exclusively on the pollen of linden flowers, is a rare and delectable treat – but we can cheat a little and make linden infused honey, which I think is just as good!
- Rose (Rosa spp.) : The rose has always been associated with love, romance, beauty and joy. The petals are cooling to the body and mind and clear out signs of heat, such as anger and irritability, fevers, gastritis and heartburn, insomnia, etc – good for those with much fire in their constitution. The petals have an affinity for the nervous system, where they have an uplifting and restorative effect. They are particularly useful for easing signs of depression and helping one through a time of grief and heart pain. They also support the reproductive tract, where their astringent action tones the uterus and can help with heavy bleeding and discharges. They gently enhance libido and fertility by toning the uterus and dispelling anxiety and nervous tension. They are particularly useful for women who tend towards sadness and insecurity. I find rose useful for people who’ve trouble opening their hearts, whether from insecurity, grief or past hurt. It helps one to feel protected in letting their heart open fully – like a fully opened rose protected on a thorny branch.
To make a floral honey, simply fill a jar 3/4 full of dried flowers (or fresh flowers that have been wilted 1-2 days to remove some moisture) and cover with runny honey. I usually pour in a bit of honey, let it settle to the bottom, and then continue to add more until the honey comes about 1/4 inch over the top of the flowers. If you’ve a nice raw honey that is a bit thick for pouring, simply place the jar of honey in a bowl of warm water to soften – then you should be able to pour quite easily. Once your flowers are nicely immersed in honey, simply cap and let infuse for 2 weeks to a month.
In years past, I have typically strained the flowers out after several weeks. But this year, I have found that leaving the flowers in is even more fantastic! This way, you can use the honey almost immediately and you have what is effectively a floral jam. This can be spread on toast, warm scones or biscuits; drizzled over fresh fruits or mixed with yogurt. I like having not only the flavor, but the beautiful appearance of the flowers suspended in golden honey and the concentrated nuggets of floral goodness in the mouth. So wonderful.
Such a combination is not just a spoonful of sugar, but a spoonful of sweetness, a medicine to nurture the spirit and calm the body and mind; a medicine to take each day as a little delightful gift to ourselves.