Even the name “Cordial” implies feelings of graciousness and warmth, so the fact that a sipping liquor also carries that name leaves no question that its consumption is meant to be an enjoyable experience. The word Cordial derives from the Medieval Latin word cordialis meaning “of the heart”, or “heartfelt”. When medicine is presented to others in the form of a cordial, those words, “of the heart” and “heartfelt” become very accurate descriptors of the gift the maker is offering. Homemade Medicinal Cordials are easy to prepare and make unique and notable holiday gifts or housewarming presents. The variations are endless and limited only by how many empty bottles you can find to fill! Surf your local thrift store for a vintage cordial glass or brandy snifter to package it and you have an instant gift that everyone will want.
Technically speaking, a cordial is a liquor, but may also be made as a sparkling water, non-alcoholic preparation with a shorter shelf-life similar to a decoction that is kept in the refrigerator. For shelf-stable cordials, there are loosely three methods.
The first is prepared by adding varying types of liquors to a highly sweetened reduction of herbal ingredients. It is, in essence, making a syrup. This method is quick, taking only a few hours and stabilization is obtained through adding enough sugar to reach the saturation point of the water and then the alcohol to further preserve it.
The second is accomplished by directly infusing liquor, and even wine, with herbs and letting it infuse for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. The choice of liquor/wine in both of these being driven solely by personal taste. If using wine, consider a wine with a lower tannin content such as white or blush. A high tannin content wine (like red) may clash with alkaloid rich herbs and also interfere with their ability to infuse. Think of this second method as a sort of tincture, only not as strong so that it may be consumed undiluted, as a daily tonic.
The third method is to take an already prepared, full strength tincture and add a simple syrup to it. This one makes it very easy to prepare one dose at a time and because most of the alcohol is cooked off during reduction, suitable for children who need a more palatable method of taking herbal medicines.
Of the cordial variations, Elderberry Cordial is probably the most well-known because of Elderberry’s popularity and wide availability. The Immune Booster Cordial below may be produced with any of the three methods depending on the time that you have available. Elderberry, along with several other immunity-boosting plants and herbs form a well-rounded tonic meant to be consumed daily as an immune system booster during months when sickness is common.
Honey is used instead of white sugar as it has its own medicinal value to bring to the table (pun intended). While the sugar content in recipe #1 sounds like a lot, it’s a necessary part of the preservation process in making it shelf-stable; reaching the saturation point of the water. If you’ll be consuming the cordial right away or will be refrigerating it, the sugar content can be cut to suit your taste. When I was first learning herbal cordial preparations, my teacher and mentor was the brilliant Teresa Boardwine of Green Comfort Herbal Apothecary whose influence is very recognizable in the recipes.
Recipe 1 – Immune Booster Cordial – Syrup Method
Note: sweeter than direct infusion method
- 1 oz. dried elderberries
- 1 oz. dried echinacea root (immune stimulant, increases cellular resistance to viruses)
- 1 oz. dried ginseng root (adaptogenic nature improves resistance to infectious diseases)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves
- 1 quart distilled water
- 4 cups raw honey (local to your area is preferred)
- 1/2 cup brandy
Combine the dry ingredients and the water in a lidded container and leave to soak for 2 – 3 hours, longer if possible – up to 8 hours. Transfer soaked mixture to a small pot and allow to simmer until the volume is reduced by approximately half; leaving you with about one pint. Remove from heat and strain through several layers of cheesecloth that have been wetted. Add honey and stir until dissolved. You may rewarm it slightly if necessary, but avoid warming too much as you don’t want to kill the honey’s beneficial enzymes. Add brandy and mix well. Store in clean, dried bottles with sterilized caps. Label with contents and date it was prepared. Makes approximately (5) 4-ounce servings.
Recipe 2 – Immune Boosting Cordial – Direct Infusion Method
Note: sweetened to taste
- 1/2 cup dried elderberries
- 1/2 cup dried echinacea root
- 1/4 cup dried ginseng root
- 1/4 cup staghorn sumac berries *optional (added in cold infusions for its high vitamin C content)
- 1/2 stick cinnamon
- 2 whole cloves
- honey to taste
Place all dry ingredients in a quart-size mason jar. Fill the jar to the top with brandy and cap. Let sit in a cool, dark place to infuse for 6 – 8 weeks, gently shaking to mix it every day or two. Strain liquid using a piece of wetted cheesecloth and sweeten with honey to taste. Store in clean, dried bottles with sterilized caps and label with contents and date prepared. Makes approximately (8) 4-ounce servings.
Recipe 3 – Single Serving Cordial from Pre-Made Tincture
- 1/2 fluid oz. elderberry or elderflower tincture
- 1/2 fluid oz. echinacea tincture
- 1/2 fluid oz. ginseng root tincture
- 3 oz. of simple syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water. Go ahead and make 1 cup to use as needed if you’ll be treating for several days. Keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week).
- choice of spices if desired
In a small pot on the stovetop, combine all ingredients and slowly simmer down until it is half of the original volume, or until you have approximately 1/2 cup (or 4 oz.). If using honey, sweeten after removing from heat.
Cordials may be served in any manner that is appropriate to the setting; over ice at tea-time, on a hot summer afternoon; at room temperature, while soaking in the bath, or warmed as a cold night’s “toddy” to curl up with as the evening winds down. A serving is generally about 4 ounces… sipping size.
There are so many soothing and medicinal variations to be had since the herbs in the recipes can be interchanged with others to meet the need at hand. As long as the liquid ingredients proportions are not changed, the basic measure for herbs in Recipe 1 is 2 – 4 ounces. How you make up the 2 – 4 ounces depends on what type of herb you’re using and can be a single herb or several. The base for Recipe 2 is one to two cups of herbs. Depending on what you are using; split it however you like. Recipe 3 is one and a half to two total fluid ounces of tincture to the set amount of simple syrup. Spices and even dried fruit are added simply to please the palate.
Now that you’ve got the basic formula down, let the present need guide you in devising other medicinal cordials. A cordial of black cohosh, hibiscus flowers, and honey makes a lovely “just because” gift for a friend experiencing symptoms of menopause. Dandelion root and uva ursi with dried cranberries and a little cinnamon bark form a powerful kidney stone relieving cordial that also helps discourage kidney infections. Use equal parts of passionflower and linden with a few lavender flowers, sweetened to taste for a bedtime cordial to help induce sleep. The possibilities are endless. Won’t you give herbal cordials a try?
Guest post contributor: Ann Caliri is a homesteader, forager, and owner of the instructional website, LiveTheOldWay. She lives with her husband and 8-year-old son on 85 acres in an underground passive solar house in central North Carolina where they focus on living off the land and utilizing “lost skills” that were once commonplace. In addition to hunting, livestock husbandry, and preserving food, they have grown and foraged, another concentration is the use of native plant medicine. Ann has studied extensively with some of the foremost foraging and herbal medicine making experts in the neighboring Appalachian mountains and enjoys utilizing this knowledge in daily life as well as passing on these skills to others.