This article is a version of an expanded article on Black Strap Syrups, which I contributed to the Essential Herbal Magazine for publishing June 2014!
Winter time does not just have to be about fighting off the sporadic illness with acute cold remedies. During cold and flu season, we can also focus on keeping our immune system on its toes.
There are several immune-boosting tonic herbs out there you can turn to, like Reishi, Astragalus and Licorice being popular ones; while pulling out your plants high in Vitamin C like Elder, Rose hips and Sumac berry give you an added edge.
But generally, and particularly for some of us, it is good to get as much nutrition in as you can, really. During winter some of us struggle with getting enough of any vitamins and minerals in our diet, especially Vitamin D, which we principally receive through sunlight.
If you buy seasonally or grow your own vegetables, winter can be the doldrums when it comes to naturally vitamin-rich food. As someone of the above ilk, and also tending towards the more wan and iron-depleted “Vata” disposition , this is something I have to think about seriously– or winter quickly becomes my least favorite season.
For people like us, this also effects our immune systems and cold-fighting capabilities in turn. Really, we can take all that we can get.
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica, Urtica urens), the feared and overlooked “super-food” of our time, is an ethical and easy solution to this fix. There is indeed a big stigma on this plant because of its name and its sting, and yet there it still stands– one of the most nutritionally rich plants in North America.
Nettle’s nutritional value has been compared to that of most seaweeds and kelps. It grows everywhere in thick clumps, and yet we continue to struggle with poor diets in this country!
Nettles are the highest land-bound source of protein from wild plants in the U.S., but also incredibly high in iron, calcium, vitamins A and B, and magnesium. This plant is arguably more nutritious than spinach, kale, or asparagus. It is prolific here in Iowa, and I am happy and grateful for its presence in these sparse wild places!
The only obstacle: they die back in winter. The tender tops are picked in spring until they flower, when the plant’s chemistry becomes more hostile and abrasive in the interest of producing and protecting its seeds. How do you manage to access this treasure trove of nutrition when the plant is dead?
For starters, you can turn to an herbalist’s methods of preparation and storage. I pick and dry nettle tops for storage throughout summer, saving them for their most important use in winter.
Some herbalists keep it that way, using the dried herb for a big pot of infusion once in a while, but I have seen this as being somewhat inefficient myself.
Plus, not everyone has the time (or palate) for heaping cups of Nettle tea. Tincture would seem like a more obvious choice for convenience of storage, even capsules too, and yet the doses are much smaller and less effective than you would think.
Syrups come into play here as an appealing option; not all herbal syrups have to be cough syrups, and honey has been found to be one of the best mediums for holding and preserving vitamins and minerals.
Not to mention– honey (raw or organic) in small tablespoon doses, is high in its own mineral content. Think of it this way: instead of making your big pot of Nettle tea and trying to down the wonderful green sludge throughout your entire day, you instead make a more concentrated infusion and fix it into a syrup. Then you are just taking that amount as a tablespoon supplement, bit by bit, throughout your day. You can mix it into your coffee, or tea.
Also– it is sweet!
This concept inspired in me the following recipe, Black Nettle Syrup, which involves crafting your own homemade Nettle syrup and mixing it with Black Strap Molasses for added nutritional benefit. If you are one of those folks that hungers for iron (or high iodine content) in the winter or anytime, you should really try this recipe.
When you are done, you will have a beautiful, dark syrup that has just the right amount of sweet with molasses flavor, and actually tastes quite pleasant.
It is also chock full of nutrients– most notably iron, potassium, vitamin A and B, calcium, magnesium, folate (vitamin B9), and manganese. This could come in handy as a supplement for just about anyone, but may also be of marked health benefit for those with moderate anemia, anxiety, digestive disorders and menstrual irregularities.
Black Nettle Syrup
What You’ll Need:
- Dried (or Fresh) Stinging Nettles (at least 1 cup OK)
- 20-30 oz. honey (preferably organic; raw is ok)
- 15-20 oz. Black Strap Molasses
- A few hours of your time
-Fill a small to medium pot with water on stove top. Bring water to a gentle simmer, then add your nettles to create initial “infusion”. Cover. Let this go for a time, until water is a very dark green. You can leave it to simmer, or just leave it on low heat. The sludgier looking the better (more vitamins/minerals). You may add more water if too much evaporates, and infuse as long as you prefer. It may take a while.
-Once you have created your desired infusion, strain out herb from the infusion and put in a new clean pot. Add your honey and bring up to a simmer again.
-At this point, you are “simmering down” your syrup to the consistency you like. This may also take a while. Stir a bit here and there if you want. Some syrups can be runnier with more water content, others can be simmered down more to be a bit thicker. It just depends up on the length of simmering. A couple notes: syrups are runnier at a higher temperature, so it will be a bit thicker when it is cooled down. Also, y0u have yet to add Black Strap Molasses, which may also add thickness.
-Final step: once you have simmered down to your desired syrup consistency, add the Molasses to the mixture and stir while it is still hot. Let cool.
-Add cooled Black Nettle Syrup to desired container, preferably glass and amber-tinted. Make sure to store syrup in fridge when not in use.
References: NutritionData.com. The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood. Charles Garcia/California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism. Personal experience and knowledge.