Osha and Ginger Oxymel for Your Child’s Chest Cold

I don’t know about you all, but this has been one rough winter for us, sickness-wise. Back-to-back colds followed by sinus infections followed by stomach bugs…is it my karma?

Being sick as a grown up is hard enough. But, when desperate, you CAN take more potent over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen or antihistamines. Generally speaking, these are a no-no for little ones. So what do you do when you see them so sick and miserable? Cuddle the cold away?

Luckily, Mother Nature has a long list of effective-yet-gentle herbs that can ease your baby’s suffering. These can be given in the traditional forms, but good luck getting your toddler to drink tea or swallow a tincture.

Enter today’s star: the oxymel.  It is a Greek word: “oxy” meaning “acid” and “mel” meaning “honey.” The acid we are talking about is apple cider vinegar, which contains acetic acid.

Apple cider vinegar on its own has myriad uses and benefits, both internal and external. It has been studied for its effect on blood glucose levels (Brighenti et al, 1995), coronary artery disease, and blood pressure ( Certain medications containing acetic acid are used to treat skin conditions, infections if the ear canal, and vaginitis. Furthermore, it has been shown to be a potent anti microbial agent, even against stubborn gram negative bacteria when used topically in a 3% concentration (Ryssel et al, 2009). And then there is the long list of folk uses:

  1. UTI remedy
  2. Facial toner/acne remedy
  3. Head lice killer
  4. Digestive aid
  5. Restless leg alleviant
  6. Detox/fat loss aid

…just to name a few. So, long story short, we are already on our way to a potent home remedy.

Then there is honey. Sweet, soothing, and medicinal. It is an established anti-fungal and antimicrobial, which is why it seems to never go bad. And, most importantly for our oxymel, it has been shown to be MORE effective than dextromethorphan (that’s the “DM” in a famous over-the-counter cough syrup) in treating nighttime cough in children (Paul IM, et al, 2007).

So, you could basically mix honey and apple cider vinegar and have an excellent cough syrup, no herbs required. But I like herbs. So let’s boost this oxymel to amazing heights with…osha root.

Osha grows wild in Colorado. It is in the celery/parsnip family, and greatly resembles Angelica, Cow Parsnip, and…poison hemlock. The latter and osha also often grow right next to each other. For this reason, I do not recommend foraging for this one unless you have a lot of experience. The root is completely different from hemlock. Osha is a brown taproot with a distinct maple and celery aroma. But nonetheless, I wouldn’t risk it. You can purchase osha online. Since it is local to Colorado, you will get the best price from They are a wonderful local metaphysical and herbs store that ship all over.

Osha root is pricey, I will admit. Depending on the time of year, you can spend $25 on an ounce. But it is EFFECTIVE and one ounce makes quite a lot of medicine. It is an amazingly effective bronchodilator. You can FEEL it relaxing that tightness in your chest with an almost menthol-y, analgesic effect. Osha studies are sadly lacking, but empirical data support its use for cough and chest inflammation. And personal use gives it a thumbs up, too.

If osha is unavailable or not in your budget, you can also use elderberries, elder flowers, or linden leaf and flower. All are safe for children and have their own actions against colds.

I have also added ginger to this oxymel for taste, warming, and to help with any tummy upset due to the ingestion of mucus that often happens with a cold. So, here is the RECIPE:



  1. Organic raw honey*
  2. Organic apple cider vinegar
  3. 1 oz osha root, dried
  4. 1 tablespoon ginger root, fresh or dried
  5. Pint mason jar


Place osha and ginger in mason jar. Fill two thirds with honey, one third with vinegar. Cover with lid. Shake to mix. Leave in a cool, dark place for 4 weeks. Strain into an amber colored bottle and store in medicine cabinet.

*Honey should not be consumed by anyone under the age of one due to the risk of botulism

One teaspoon of this was effective for my son (he is almost two). He liked the taste and I noticed a difference almost immediately-no joke. The beauty of this is that you cannot overdose on it. Give it as-needed with no fear of drowsiness or any other unpleasant side effects.

A UTI Tincture Starring Uva Ursi

A close-up of Uva Ursi and one of its red berries. Found at Mount Falcon Western Trailhead. The leaves of this specimen are less-than-ideal. I am using it to show the berry. Use only vibrant green leaves with no brown spots and minimal insect damage.

I love finding an herb spontaneously. Just as I was getting used to the sad thought that I shall have to wait until Spring to collect any more herbs, I came across one I’d been looking for all summer but had yet to find. I took my son and my momma’s little dog for a hike to Mount Falcon Trail last week and came upon some Uva ursi growing happily and abundantly on the rocks.

Uva Ursi is a woody, ground-covering shrub that likes to cling to rocks in mountainous regions. It is a lovely plant for beginners, since both its location (clinging to rocks in the mountains) and appearance (waxy, oblong leaves, round, bright red berries, evergreen nature) make it easy to spot. The name translates to “grape of the bear,” which describes its red berries. It is known commonly as bearberry; here in Colorado and other parts of the West, we also call it “kinnikinnick,” which is Algonquin for “mixture.” This is due to the fact that the leaves of the shrub feature prominently in many Native American smoking mixtures.

Uva Ursi’s medicinal offering has to do with the urinary tract. It has been used for centuries to cure and soothe bladder infections, and there is abundant clinical documentation to support its use in this domain. In particular, the therapeutic use of U. ursi  has been shown to “exert a prophylactic effect on recurrent cystitis” (B. Larson et al, 1993). “Cystitis” is another word that describes an infection of the urinary tract. The results of the study indicated that women who had more than three infections per year showed a marked decrease in instances of sickness when taking the herb as a supplement for one month. There were no side effects.

For those of us who suffer from UTIs, that last sentence is particularly intriguing. The typical treatment for cystitis is antibiotics, which brings its own set of uncomfortable side-effects (diarrhea, nausea, YEAST). Sometimes, these side effects are even worse than the bladder infection! So a natural remedy that you can take that is effective and poses no side effects seems almost too good to be true.

At this point, I should like to remind you that UTIs, though common, can be very dangerous. I encourage you to try this natural remedy as both a preventive measure and to treat an infection that is coming on. However, if you have had symptoms for more than a couple of days or are experiencing signs of severe infection (fever, chills, nausea, blood in urine, pain in mid-back), don’t skip the Western medicine. In this case, the infection has spread to your kidneys and will need to be treated with antibiotics.

Now, on to the remedy! This tincture is a combined extract. That is, it includes our star U. ursi as well as a few other herbs that are used in UTIs. These are: corn silk, horsetail, yarrow, and echinacea. Here’s a grief breakdown of what each does:

corn silk (Zea mays)-a mild diuretic shown in small studies to alleviate symptoms of patients with UTI symptoms (Sahib et al, 2012)

horsetail (Equisetum arvense)-a strong diuretic which helps to irrigate the urinary tract

yarrow (Achillea millefolium)-a wonderful multi-purpose herb whose constituents include proazulenes (anti-inflammatory) and essential oils (antimicrobial)

echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)an herb famous for its use in fighting infections. It is an established immuno-modulator, causing an increase in white blood cell production and enhancing the body’s capacity for phagocytosis, a process involving the cellular ingestion of bacteria (from The American Botanical Council: The Complete German Commission E Monographs Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines; Blumenthal et al, 1998).

You can purchase all of the above herbs here.

UTI TinctureIMG_1034.JPG


1 large jar
Dried corn silk
Dried horsetail herb
Dried yarrow herb
Dried Echinacea purpurea herb (as you can see, mine is from Mountain Rose Herbs)
Dried Uva ursi leaves
Mortar and pestle (optional)
80 proof ethanol (Vodka)


The amount of each herb will depend on the size of your jar. You want to fill it approximately halfway with your dried herbs, with each herb in equal amounts. It’s a little like making sand art. If it helps, you can draw a line at the halfway mark of your jar, and then divide that into five sections. But it’s really just as easy to eyeball it. Here is what mine looked like before adding the alcohol:

The layered herbs before adding the vodka. The herbs, starting from the bottom, are the U. ursi, horsetail, cornsilk, echinacea, and yarrow. But you can layer them however you like.

I like to grind the herbs a bit in my mortar and pestle before putting them in to tincture, but that is optional. Next, fill the jar to the very top with your alcohol. I prefer to use Vodka. It is cheap, tasteless, and extracts beautifully. Label your jar with its contents and that day’s date, as well as a date six weeks from the day you made the tincture. Store your brew in a cool, dark place. When your six-week date has arrived, strain the herbs through cheesecloth into tinted glass dropper bottles, like these.

I sincerely hope, from one UTI-sufferer to another, that this remedy helps you. Take it as a prophylactic or at the soonest possibly moment you feel an infection coming on. An effective dose will be 1-2 dropperfuls three to four times per day, while drinking plenty of water (at least one full glass every hour). Please remember, though, to seek medical treatment if you are not getting better fairly quickly. These infections are no joke!

Making Hydrosols: Rose Water Recipe

A hydrosol is the aqueous by-product of steam distillation, one of the processes used to make essential oils. While many people are familiar with essential oils and their uses in aromatherapy, cooking, perfume-making, etc., the hydrosol has an equally important place in herbalism.

You may know these hydrosols by the name “flower waters.” An ancient favorite is rose water, and it is surprisingly simple to make.

The uses for rose water are many. From a medicinal standpoint, the astringent and anti-inflammatory properties make rose water ideally suited for skin complaints, such as acne and eczema. Rose water also possesses antioxidants which rejuvenate aging skin. It is said that Cleopatra herself used rose water as part of her beauty regimen.

Rose water has household uses as well. Spritzing a little rose water on your linens and curtains will give them a light, fresh scent with no worries about dyes or chemicals that might stain or damage them.

A gentle mouthwash can also be made from rose petals, but using the decoction method rather than the hydrosol method. See my previous post, Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash, for more instructions on how to make a mouthwash.

Rose Water (Hydrosol)


Dried rose petals (at least 1 cup)



Put a heavy object with a flat surface such as a brick in the bottom of a large stock pot. I actually used an inverted metal measuring cup without the handle and it worked quite well. Fill the pot with water nearly to the edge of the brick or whatever you are using, but do not submerge it. Put in at least a cup of rose petals, more if you want a stronger distillate. Place a heat-proof bowl or Pyrex measuring cup on top of the brick. Bring the water to a simmer over medium low heat. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid that is inverted. Now, fill the inverted lid with ice cubes (see above image). Let the mixture steam for thirty minutes. Remove the lid, and you will find your bowl/Pyrex is filled with clear, fragrant water. Remove the distillate and allow it to cool, then bottle it.

I should mention that the above method can be used with any dried flowers. The rose water is particularly delightful when chilled and spritzed lightly on the face as a toner or to set makeup.

Your home-made rose water, along with some Lavender Rose Bath Fizzies, would be a grand start to a lovely holiday gift basket, don’t you think?

Winter Prep: Homemade Cough Drops



White Horehound is an odd-looking plant with an odd-sounding name. It is a member of the mint family, along with many other familiar herbs such as thyme, lavender, basil, and marjoram. Its signature look and unique smell make it another ideal herb for a beginner to forage.

Horehound, a.k.a. Marrubiam vulgare, has an ancient tradition as a remedy for respiratory ailments. A record of its use exists as early as 1 B.C. in the encyclopedia De Medecina by the Roman Aulus Cornelius Celsus. This, by the way, makes for fascinating reading and is available for to read in translation by Bill Thayer here.

Horehound grows wild here in Colorado. I found some hiking this summer with my son in an open space near Chatfield reservoir. It really is unmistakable–it has a Dr. Seuss-y quality, with its clusters of flowers hanging onto the stem like little green puff balls. Here is a picture I took for your reference:

Marrubiam vulgare, found in South Valley near Chatfield, Colorado. Those green balls are the flower heads, which become sticky like burs when they’ve gone to seed.
Horehound has traditionally been made into a candy or lozenge for medicinal use. It has also been used in teas and even in beer. It is an acquired taste-bitter and, yes, medicinal. It is what gives a certain famous herbal cough drop its peculiar and recognizable taste.

If you were to reference any herbal, you would find a long list of herbs dedicated to something called respiratory catarrh. That is fancy, herbalist jargon for mucus build-up associated with a chest cold, cough, phlegm, inflammation, or basically whatever ails your respiratory tract. That being said, there are very few herbs actually proven to help catarrh. Horehound, incidentally, has been proven to show “potent antimicrobial activity against some Gram (+) pathogenic behavior” (Zarai et al, 2011). In the realm of respiratory infections, this would be particularly useful in a case of bacterial pneumonia, which is typically caused by the gram positive bacterium streptococcus pneumonia.

We are going to make our very own herbal cough drops. You can certainly make these with just the horehound-it is the star, after all. However, there are plenty of other herbs you can add that have proven actions against cold and flu symptoms. Here is a short list:

Herbs for Chest Colds

  1. Sage-antibacterial, treats inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and throat
  2. Eucalpytus-expectorant and antispasmodic, excellent for chest colds
  3. Mullein flower-expectorant and anti-irritant, ideal for dry or unproductive coughs
  4. Peppermint-cooling, antispasmodic, decongestant
  5. Plantain-astringent, antibacterial
  6. Thyme-bronchoantispasmodic, expectorant, antibacterial, ideal relief of bronchitis
  7. Elder flower-increases bronchial secretion, good for dry cough

Now on to our recipe, without further ado! I have used bee balm in place of thyme, since it actually contains more of the active ingredient thymol. You can read about this wonderful herb in my previous post Colorado’s Own Oregano: A Recipe for Bee Balm Mouthwash. I have also added some lemon balm for taste and for its calming properties. Once again, you can add any herbs you like. We are just going for about 1.5 cups of dry herbs total. You can find a great selection of organic herbs here.

Homemade Herbal Cough Drops

Makes about 4 dozen lozenges fullsizerender-1


1/2 cup dried horehound
1/2 cup dried mullein leaf and flower
1/8 cup dried peppermint
1/8 cup dried bee balm
1/8 cup dried lemon balm
1/8 cup dried sage


First, prepare a small baking pan (I used a square, 8×8 stainless steel pan) with butter or anti-stick spray. You will want to have this ready because your sugar mixture is HOT and time-sensitive.

Next, add all ingredients to a saucepan and cover with 1.5 cups water. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and steep for twenty minutes. Strain out herbs. Reserve one cup of your herb tea (the extra half cup is to accommodate for any boil-off or absorption by the herbs, FYI). Return the one cup of liquid to a LARGE pot* (such as a stock pot) and stir in the 2.5 cups of brown sugar. Bring to a boil and boil until sugar mixture has reached 300 degrees Fahrenheit (hard-crack stage on a candy thermometer). Immediately pour the mixture into your prepared baking pan. Let cool for about 15 minutes, or until edges hold their shape.

Now, you have some options for shaping. You can simply cut the candy into squares with a knife, which is the fastest and most convenient way. If you want them to be a more traditional shape, however, you will need a friend. This candy hardens fast. Have him or her help portion out small pieces while you mold the portions into the shapes you want. Place them on a clean, cool surface to dry completely.

When the candy has completely cooled, dust the pieces with powdered sugar. This will help keep the lozenges from sticking to one another in their storage container**. Alternately, you could wrap each on in a piece of wax paper. But…who has time for that?!

*You want a larger pan than you think you might need because the sugar mixture will EXPAND when boiling and can easily spill over and THEORETICALLY burn on your stovetop and THEORETICALLY catch fire and HYPOTHETICALLY turn your house into a smoke-filled inferno while you hustle your one-year-old out the door and fan odd, burnt-herby-smelling smoke out the open windows and sob because you have to start all over. Again, hypothetically.

**Store your candy in the fridge for longevity and for an added cooling effect when it comes time to use them.



Immunity Boost: Spiced Rosehip Tea

Rosehips are the fruit of the rose bush. If you’re like me, you are probably surprised to hear that roses even produce fruit. But indeed, they do. Also known as “haws” and “heps,” rose hips are orange-red, somewhat oblong, and about the size of a grape. 

Rosehips ripen in late summer through autumn. They can be consumed fresh, but have traditionally been used dried for teas. The fruit is one of nature’s highest sources of Vitamin C, though the C content can vary extensively from species to species. Nevertheless, the presence of Vitamin C and antioxidants make rosehips a delightful way to boost immunity during cold and flu season.

The hips I have were foraged from Deer Creek Canyon, with the help of my husband and brother. They are “wild rose hips,” also known as Rosa woodsii. This species is incredibly fragrant, smelling very much like sweet apples. I will say these are another good herb for beginners. The fruits themselves are easy to identify, given their color and fragrance. And the shrubs themselves have the tell-tale thorns on the stems and the leaflets have little teeth. Here is a botanical as compared to the actual rosehips for your reference:

It takes a little grunt work to prepare the hips for drying, since each is filled with furry little seeds. After rinsing them, you’ll need to cut each hip in half, scoop out the seeds, and then let the hips dry flat for a few days in a warm, sunny spot. Alternatively, you can purchase rose hips here

Anyway, it occurs to me than an an apple-flavored herbal tea is begging for some spice. So the recipe calls for a bit of cinnamon, as well as a little hibiscus for added antioxidants and honey for sweetness. It tastes like a lovely, mellow apple cider. 

Spiced Rosehip Tea

Makes 1 serving


     1 tsp dried rosehips

     2-3 cinnamon chips

     1 small dried hibiscus         petal

     8 oz boiling water

     Honey to taste


     Steep all ingredients in boiling water for ten minutes. Strain. Add honey to taste.