Holiday Herbal Gifts: Liquors, Infusions and Bitters

IMG_2058One of my favorite activities is researching, experimenting and making alcohol infused liqueurs.  Alcohol has historically been used as medicine throughout the world.  The Romans infused herbs in wine as a regular medicinal therapy due to alcohol’s ability to extract the active compounds of any number of herbs.  The ‘Water of Life’ as alcohol came to be known was refined all over Europe (known as such due to it being safer to drink than disease-ridden water).  Alcohol was used as a way to preserve, extract and even direct the action of the herb in the body.  Alcohol is stimulating and warming, as such it increases blood circulation throughout the body.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine moderate alcohol consumption is said to calm the mind, is relaxing, dispels worry, invigorates blood, eliminates obstructions from the channels, harmonizes and warms the Stomach, and expels cold.  Alcohol infusions, or liqueurs are typically infused with fruit, herbs, spices, flowers and nuts. Liqueurs are usually not aged for long after the ingredients are mixed, but may have resting periods during their production to allow flavors to mix together. Although liqueurs are made with distilled spirits, I also use wine, vermouth, sake or sherry as my base.  One of my favorite infusions was with sherry, the result was rich, complex and warming.

Many of my recipes call for the use of a sweetener.  I tend to use honey, although depending on the type of images1honey it can add an additional flavor to your liqueurs so a simple syrup make with organic sugar can be substituted.  When using honey, I make it into a simple syrup following the recipe below. I tend to make my alcohol infusions slightly sweet to preserve the medicinal aspects of the infusion. When sweetening the herbal infusion it is better to start with less than wait a day or two, taste again and adjust.  If not you can easily end up adding too much sweetener, which of course you can’t undue.  Sugar based simple syrup:  In a saucepan combine 1 cup of sugar or honey with 1 cup water. Heat the mixture and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool.

I have been working with herbs for so long I have a fairly good idea of the flavors that they impart.  If you do not have this experience, I would start by following a recipe until you feel more comfortable experimenting.  Here is a partial list of the herbs that I use:

  • Allspice berries (Pimenta Dioica Merr.)
  • Angelica root and seeds (Angelica Archangelica L.)
  • Anise seeds (Pimpinela Anisum L.)
  • Burdock (arctium lappa)
  • Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
  • Cardamon seeds (Elettaria Cardamomum Maton)
  • Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum Cassia)
  • Cloves flower buds (Eugenia Carophylata Thunb.)images4
  • Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula, Dang Shen)
  • Coriander seeds (Coriandrum Sativum L.)
  • Damiana (Turnera diffusa)
  • Dang Gui (angelica sinensis)
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
  • Fennel seeds and tops (Foeniculum Vulgare Mill.)
  • Gentian root (Gentiana Lutea L.)
  • Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)
  • Hawthorn berries ((Crataegus oxyacantha)
  • He Shu Wu (Polygonum multiflorum)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
  • Hyssop leaves (Hyssopus Officinalis L.)
  • Juniper berries (Juniperus Communis L.)
  • Lemon Balm leaves (Melissa Officinalis L.)
  • Logan Berries (Euphoria longan)
  • Peppermint leaves (MenthaxPiperata L.)
  • Rose petals
  • Schinsandra (Schisandra chinensis)
  • Star anise seeds (Illicium Verum Hook)
  • Tumeric root (Curcuma Longa L.)
  • Vanilla seeds (Vanilla Planifolia Andr.)

I often use whiskey or brandy as my base distilled spirit in that they tend to impart a warming energy and have a great base flavor.  If the herbs that I am using have a strong flavor, for example infusions with angelica, I would use vodka or grappa as my base.

Angelica Liqueur-Angelica has a long history of use in colds, lung congestion and digestion.

Step #1-2 Tbsp. fresh or dried angelica root (Angelica archangelica)
2 fl oz vodka

In a small glass jar combine the angelica root with 2 fl oz vodka. After two weeks filter through a coffee filter.

Step #2-

1 tsp. dried marjoram
2 green cardamoms
1/16 tsp. ground allspice
1/16 tsp. ground star anise
1/16 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/16 tsp. ground coriander
2 fl oz vodka
In a grinder combine the cardamom seeds, allspice, star anise, cinnamon stick and coriander seeds. Grind just until the herbs are reduced in size, but not a powder. Place in a glass jar or bottle and add 2 fl oz vodka. After one week filter through a coffee filter.

Step #3-

1/2 cup simple syrup
1 cup vodka
Combine with sugar syrup (adjusting to your sweetness level) and 1 cup vodka.

Step #4-Add small portions of the angelica root extract to the liqueur until you get a suitable flavor. Check the flavor after 2 months. If necessary add some more sugar syrup, vodka, or angelica extract.

Longevity Elixir

This infusion is based on tradition Chinese herbs that are taken for strengthening our immunity and overall health.

1 oz, He Shou Wu, (fo ti) dried

1 oz, Eleuthro

1 oz, Hawthorn Berries

1 oz, dried Reshi mushrooms, broken up

1 oz, Goji berries, chopped

1 cinnamon stick, broken

1/2 oz, Angelica Sinensis,(Dang Gui), chopped

5 red dates, pitted and chopped

1/2 of peel of tangerine, chopped

Simple syrup to taste

Combine all ingredients together with 1 liter of brandy.  Let sit for 1 month, strain add simple syrup if needed. Take a swig a day.

Beet, Hawthorn Berry and Rose Petal Liqueur

Rose petals have high tannin content so the infusion needs to sit for a while before it is palatable.

½ cup of rose water

1 ½ cups of filtered water
4 cups of rose petals from a highly scented rose  or 1 cup of dried rose petals

¼ cup of grated beets

¼ cup of hawthorn berries, slightly ground
1 liter of grappa or vodka
Simple syrup to taste
Place the rose petals, grated beets and hawthorn berries in a clean jar, add alcohol, close and keep in a cool dark place for at least 2 weeks. Strain and then add simple syrup to taste, you can always add more later, so less is probably better. Keep it for least 3-6 months before using.

Anise, Lemon Verbena and Rosemary  Liqueur

2 and 1/4 cups dry anise liqueur (raki, ouzo)

2 and 1/4 cups sweet anise liqueur (anisette, sambuca white)

3 sprigs thyme

3 sprigs rosemary

1 Tablespoon dried lemon verbena

6 sage leaves

6 mint leaves

1/4 of peel orange

Combine herbs, orange peel along with dry and sweet liqueurs together and age for 2 months. Strain and bottle.

Sage, Basil and Bay Liqueur

4 cups of grappa or vodka

6 bay leaves, crumbled

1 sprig of rosemary

10 mint leaves, chopped

1 Tablespoon chamomile flowers

10 basil leaves, chopped

15 fresh sage leaves, chopped or 1 Tablespoon dried

3 cloves

3 saffron filaments

Simple syrup to taste

Combine herbs and alcohol for 20 days. Strain, add sugar syrup to taste. Age for 4 weeks before consuming.

Highland Heather Bitters
“In Scotland bitters were traditionally drunk before meals, especially breakfast, ‘for the purpose of strengthening the stomach, and by that means invigorating the general health’.

1/2 oz gentian root chopped

2 Tablespoon heather flowers

1/2 oz coriander seed, crushed

¼ peel of tangerine

1 Tablespoon chamomile flowers

4 cloves (whole)

1/2 of cinnamon stick

1 Tablespoon glycerin

1 bottle whiskey

Combine all ingredients with whiskey, leave for ten days, then strain and bottle. In this case you do not want to add simple syrup because the bitter taste is what activates your digestive system to work efficiently.

Black Sambucus (Elderberry)

1-liter alcohol, your choice, I prefer brandy for this

4 cups of ripe elderberries or 2 cups of dried berries

2 tsp anise seed

1 tsp licorice root

1 strip of lemon peel

1 tsp glycerin (for smoothness)

Simple syrup to taste

Put the elderberries and alcohol in blender and blend until elderberries are chopped, add anise, licorice and lemon peel. Transfer to Mason jar and then sit for 30 days. Stain and add simple syrup and glycerin.

Damiana Liquor

Damiana leaves have been used as an aphrodisiac and to boost sexual potency by the native peoples of Mexico, including the Mayan Indians and is used for both male and female sexual stimulation, increased energy, asthma, depression, impotence and menstrual problems.

1 oz Damiana leaves

2 Tbsp Saw Palmetto berries

2 Tbsp Angelica Root

1/2 Tbsp Vanilla pods

3/4-1 cup Honey

1 liter Whiskey

Soak all ingredients for one week, and then strain through coffee filter and save. Re-soak herbs in 1 cup distilled water for another week, then strain. Heat water mixture too slightly warm and then add honey to the hot liquid. After honey until dissolved, take off heat and let cool. Now add this to the first whiskey liquid. Age the final liquid for at least a month

Read more:


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. geegeeparrot
    Aug 18, 2018 @ 10:58:41

    Oh, how lovely to see these recipes. Both my parents used to infuse herbs & flowers in alcohol. I wish I had their recipe books which were very old but they disappeared.
    I have been hunting for a particular recipe for an infusion which my mother made when she lived in Spain.
    She infused Fino, a pale dry sherry, with fresh sage leaves. Maybe it was just as simple as that but I seem to remember that she put in something else as well.
    But you have brought back some happy memories.
    Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: