Part 7 of the Series, Methods to Preserve Your Herbal Harvest
Honey is a delicious and beneficial natural sweetener that can be added to enhance a wide variety of foods and dishes. Its mild flavor profile can also easily take on the delightful and welcome flavor of most dried herbs, spices, flowers, and fruit through the process of infusion. Infusing honey is a great way to add enhanced taste to honey, as well as additional health benefits. Not only is it a simple and delicious way to enjoy the medicinal goodness of herbs, but honey itself has anti-bacterial and soothing properties.
Since it can also be difficult to find (and when you do find it, it’s pretty expensive), you can make it at home easily with a few simple ingredients. All you need is mild-flavored honey and dried herbs, spices, flowers and/or fruits. Clover honey tends to be the mildest and least expensive choice, but I recommend only using raw honey to get the maximum benefits of one of nature’s greatest healing gifts. When it comes to the herbs, spices, edible flowers, and fruits, the sky’s the limit. You can use one or combine a few for your own unique infused honey blend. You can even add loose dried teas (like Earl Grey or Chai) to create interesting flavors.
Use your infused honeys to flavor anywhere you’d regularly use honey. In addition,
- Sweeten tea, lemonade, or warm milk.
- Use it as the sweetener in baked goods or on fruit.
- Drizzle over yogurt, oatmeal, or ice cream (think vanilla ice cream topped with mint-vanilla infused honey).
- Pour it on toast, pancakes, crepes, or baked goods.
- Alone or mixed in a marinade, it is delicious on roasted meats ( chili-infused honey!).
- Mix into salad dressings for a special treat.
Infused honey also makes a great homemade gift for the friends and families in your life. If you start now, there’s plenty of time to make them for holiday gifts, too. To turn this honey into a sweet gift, just tie a bit of twine around the jar and add a label if you like. You could even tuck a small jar into a mug with their favorite tea or include a miniature loaf of quick bread to make it extra special.
Is herb-infused honey safe to prepare at home?
Although some people make infused honeys with fresh herbs, fruits, and spices, my process calls for dried produce in order to limit water activity and the growth of Clostridium botulinum spores. I feel adding water, by way of fresh produce, can potentially activate this toxin.
The bacterial spores that cause botulism are common in both soil and water. They produce botulinum toxin when exposed to low oxygen levels and certain temperatures. And since the added water’s make-up is hydrogen and oxygen…well there you have it….a potential breeding ground. The further danger that comes in using fresh produce is when honey has excess water/moisture, there is a chance of mold or fermentation, rendering your honey inedible.
Honey itself is safe for most healthy people over the age of 1 who do not have immune deficiency issues. The reason it is safe is because C. botulinum cannot grow and produce toxin in an acid food (pH less than or equal to 4.6) or in a food having a water activity of at least 0.92. The pH value of most honey is well below 4.6. The typical pH value is 3.9 but the range has been cited between 3.4 and 6.1. Even if the honey has a higher pH, the low water activity (typically 0.5 and 0.6, far lower than the required 0.92) prevents the outgrowth of C. botulinum spores.
Additionally, Much of the honey on U.S. store shelves is imported from China, and may be contaminated with heavy metals and illegal antibiotics. Look for products from local apiaries and other trusted sources. Raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized honey will give you the best bang for your buck health-wise, so shoot for this as your goal in sourcing. When honey is processed commercially, most of the nutrients are killed off and the resulting product is no better than high fructose corn syrup. In the United States, you can find raw and local honey with the help of Honey Locator.
How to Make Infused Honey
Okay, now that we have dispensed with WHY you should make this wonderful ambrosia, let’s talk about HOW.
Equipment. The equipment you need is minimal and most of it is already in your kitchen.
- Clean, dry jars and lids (half-pint and pint mason jars work well for infusion). MAKE SURE your container has a lid/cap/cork that creates a solid seal so as not to let moisture in.
- Chopstick, wooden spoon handle, or other stirrer (avoid metal, which can scratch jars)
- Empty paper or muslin tea bags I have used these 3 types and they have all worked well: Disposable Drawstring Seal Filter Empty Paper Tea Bags, Cotton Muslin Re-useable Tea Bags, and Press & Seal Paper Herbal Loose Tea Bags.
- Measuring Cups
- Measuring spoons
Raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized honey. Use local honey if you can find it. A light, mild flavored honey generally works best but there is no reason you cannot experiment with the various flavors. As a general rule, the flavor of lighter colored honeys is milder, and the flavor of darker colored honeys is stronger. Clover, Alfalfa, Orange Blossom, Sage, Tulip Poplar, and Tupelo are some of the honeys with which I have successfully made infused honeys.
Flavorings. Here is where you get to be creative. Try out different combinations of herbs, spices, edible flowers, and fruits to find your signature flavor. The only stipulation is they MUST be dried..The herbs can be in the form of whole sprigs or separated leaves, buds, and petals. Chopped herbs usually infuse more quickly. The finer your chop, the better they will penetrate into the honey. You may even use ground powders which will impart a wonderful flavor to your honey but this does add an extra filtering step to your process.
- To dry your herbs & spices, check out this article: Drying Methods for Herbs & Spices. This is also the method you will use if you are drying your own edible flowers. Do not grind your flowers, but rather crush them as you fill the jars.
- To make a powder to use in your honeys, use this article for how-to’s: How to Make Fruit & Vegetable Powders.
- Dehydrate your chopped fruit as usual. Do not use store-bought sulfurated fruit for infused honey.
This chart will give you an idea of the variety you can choose from, but is by no means exhaustive.
Procedure for Infusing Honey
I use the slow method of infusion to derive all the benefits of the honey and the flavorings. The slow method involves allowing the honey to sit in the herbs, spices, flowers, and/or fruits for two weeks or more. This method may give delayed gratification, but you will know that the health benefits are still there. I kind of LIKE that idea.
1. Prepare herbs.
After your herbs, spices, flowers, and/or fruits have dried you can prepare them for infusion. I like to chop herbs and/or muddle my spices after dry roasting to release more of the aromatic flavors. You can use whole herb leaves, but you will need more of them for the infusion.
You can steep your honey with loose herbs, spices, flowers, and/or fruits but then you will have to strain your honey mixture at the end, or be okay with solids in your finished product. Instead, I prefer to place all of my herbs and spices for the infusion in a loose leaf tea bag. This will not only allow for the honey to soak in the aromatic flavors you’ve chosen, but also give you easy removal when you are done.
For this step, place your prepared (chopped, muddled, or zested) herbs, spices, flowers, and/or fruits in an empty loose leaf tea bag and twist the top to help the bag remained closed. Tie the bag off with string or seal it id it has a closure strip. Otherwise, jsut tie a knot in the top of the bag.
You can adapt the strength of the flavor in your infusion to your own personal preference. Add more spices/herbs for a stronger flavor and less of each for a milder flavor. Get creative! I used the following amounts for my infusions:
Basic formulation measurement examples:
- 2 tablespoons of finely chopped dried herbs per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.
- 1 tablespoon of freshly ground dried spices per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.
- 1 tablespoon dried, grated citrus zest (peel) per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.
- 1 vanilla bean, chopped per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.
- 2-4 tablespoons dried flower petals per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey. Crush when making tea bag.
- 2 tablespoons dried cinnamon bark per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey. Crush when making tea bag.
- 1 tablespoon fruit powder per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey.
- 4 tablespoons dried, finely chopped fruit per 1 cup (8 ounces) of honey. Crush further, if you wish, when making tea bag.
2. Prepare containers.
Wash containers thoroughly in warm, soapy water and rinse well. A good bottle brush is a big help for narrow containers. Then sterilize the clean, warm jars or bottles and their lids/caps/corks by completely immersing them in water and boiling for 10 minutes. DO NOT skip this step! Prepare the sterilizing bath before you wash the jars, or keep the clean jars in warm water until you are ready to put them into the water bath for sterilizing.
The best way to prevent breakage while sterilizing jars is to use a deep pot with a rack in the bottom, such as a boiling water canner. Fill the canner or pot at least half full with warm water. Place the empty, warm jars or bottles upright on the rack and make sure the water level is 1 to 2 inches above the tops of the jars. Bring the water to a boil, and continue boiling for 10 minutes. The jars should stay below the boiling water the entire time.
After 10 minutes of boiling, remove the jars or bottles from the water and invert on a clean towel. Use canning jar lifters or tongs that grab the containers without slipping. Have the ingredients at hand because you will fill the jars with prepared vinegar while they are still warm. When working with any glass for cooking, you need to introduce your container to an environment that is equal to thee heat of the jar and its contents. NEVER put a cold jar in boiling water. Damage will occur, even if it is undetectable to the naked eye, in the form of thermal shock (damage due to rapid, uneven temperature changes).
3. Warm the honey.
If you warm the honey before adding the flavoring agent, it will infuse more quickly. Place the bottle of honey in a warm water bath. But keep an eye on it, because heating it too much can make it caramelize and thicken.As well, you may damage some of the nutrients; with raw honey, overheating will impact its health benefits. If you don’t warm the honey, then it will just take longer for the honey to pour and pack into your jar and for the flavors to infuse.
Honey and high heat do not get along very well. It has been found that excessive heat can have detrimental effects on the nutritional value of honey. Heating up to 98.6 °F (37 °C) causes loss of nearly 200 components, some of which are antibacterial. Heating up to 104 °F (40 °C) destroys invertase, an important enzyme found in honey. At 122 °F (50 °C), the honey sugars caramelize and it turns from a light color to an increasingly darker color as the temperature rises.
4. Combine herbs and honey.
Make sure to tie off the tea bag to secure your infusion flavoring. Place your prepared tea bag(s) into one of your sterilized jars. Pour honey over the top of the tea bag, filling the jar.Using a chopstick or other implement, stir gently to coat the tea bag with honey. Top off with more honey to fill the jar. Wipe the jar rim with a clean cloth and cover tightly.
Label the jar with the contents and date so you don’t forget what is in it. (This is experience speaking here.)
5. Allow your honey to infuse.
Let your jar of honey sit for 2 weeks to absorb the flavors. (I prefer 4-6 weeks, but 2 may be the flavor you like.) Shake the jar every day. I put these in the cupboard above my coffee pot and it is my “ritual” to shake these jars every morning as my coffee is brewing.
Invert your honey jar whenever your tea bag floats to the surface to keep the flavorings submerged and to mix the honey ever so slightly. The tea bag should stay well-coated.
6. Checking for flavor.
Taste your honey occasionally after a week until it has reached the intensity you desire. If the flavor is strong enough, remove the bag and discard. If a stronger flavor is desired, let honey steep for another week, adding more flavoring if you wish. When you are happy with the taste, open your jar and remove the tea bag.
Replace your jar lid, screwing it on tightly.For best quality, keep the jar tightly covered and stored in a cool, dry area. Pure honey keeps best in air-tight containers in a dry place at room temperature (70°F). An air-tight cover is necessary because honey loses aroma and flavor and absorbs moisture and odors when exposed to air.
Honey may crystallize or granulate as it gets older, or if it is refrigerated or frozen. This is a natural process and does not harm the honey in any way. To return crystallized honey to liquid form, place the open container of honey in a pan of warm (not hot/boiling) water until crystals disappear. Be careful not to overheat because too much heat causes honey to change color and flavor.
Caution: Honey that foams and smells like alcohol is spoiled and should be discarded.
Methods to Preserve Your Herbal Harvest, an 8 Part Series
To see the other articles in the series, click on the links:
Part 1, Harvesting, Preparing, and Seeding Herbs & Spices
Part 2, Freezing Methods for Herbs & Spices
Part 3, Drying Methods for Herbs & Spices
Part 4, Extracts/Tinctures from Herbs & Spices
Part 5, Preserving Herbs & Spices with Infused Vinegars
Part 6, Making Teas from Herbs and Spices
Part 8, Making SAFE Herbal Infused Oils