Thursday, January 10, 2013

Period Herbal Preparations: Oxymels


So sekanjabin seems to be a pretty popular beverage drink in the SCA.   David Friedman refers to it as such on page 125 of  "How to Milk an Almond..."     He also laments being unable to find the recipe referred to in period literature.  I would put forth that it probably wasn't a beverage to be found in cookbooks, rather a medicinal to be found in those types of texts. 

When I first tasted it, I recognized it immediately as a medicinal oxymel. I would offer the conjecture that "sekanjabin" is simply the Persian word for a medicinal oxymel which at some point  (probably not pre-1600)  morphed into a popular beverage.   Keep in mind coca-cola was once tonic blend of medicinal herbs.

Some of the earliest evidence of oxymels being made from different medicinal herbs and used as remedies can be found in the Hippocratic treatise On Regimen in Acute Diseases written around 400 BCE. 

Oxymel is mentioned as a medicinal drink frequently and at one point the manuscripts instructs the reader to "boil opoponax in oxymel, and, having strained it, to give it to drink." A period recipe for an oxymel can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Leech Book penned by Cild in the late 9th or early 10th century.
"Take of vinegar, one part; of honey, well cleansed, two parts; of water, the fourth part; then seethe down to the third or fourth part of the liquid, and skim the foam and the refuse off continually, until the mixture be fully sodden. If thou wish to work the drink stronger then put as much of the vinegar as of the honey..."

 My basic recipe for making an oxymel with honey follows:

1 1/3 cup honey
1 cup water
2/3 cup white wine vinegar
2 cups mint

The process is simple.  Bring the water and the honey to a boil and boil for  about ten -fifteen minutes, skimming  the foam off the top.   Then you pour  the white wine vinegar into this and bring the mixture back to a boil.  Simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens.  This recipe does not get as thick as those I’ve done with sugar.

Then you take it off the heat,  coarsely chop up the mint and steep it in the mixture with a cover.   Basically you are making an herbal infusion or decoction with the vinegar honey mixture.

I use white wine vinegar due to the the recipe that is included in An Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook of the Thirteenth Century as translated by Charles Perry: "sikanjabîn syrup is beneficial in phlegmatic fevers: make it with six ûqiyas of sour vinegar for a ratl of honey and it is admirable. "


This fall  I made up a batch of an oxymel that I had in mind to offer to a person suffering from the flu-perhaps with a  feverish condition.   In place of the mint, I used equal amounts of yarrow flowers,  dried elderflowers and peppermint.  Then I threw in a handful of lemon balm for good measure.    I covered the pan tightly and then let the mixture infuse all night long.   In the morning I strained it well and bottled the concentrate up.

To use the concentrate  I put one part of it in a glass with eight parts water. If you are wanting to work with the diaphoretic actions of the plants, you will want to serve this as a hot drink especially in the winter months.  That is also mentioned in On Regimen in Acute Diseases. 

Hippocrates, “On Regimen in Acute Diseases," in Hippocratic Writings/On The Natural Faculties, translated by Francis Adams, (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1956), 40.

Cild, Bald's Leechbook II. in Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Early England Vol.II, by Thomas Cockayne,(London: Longmans, Green, Longman, Roberts and Green, 1865), 287.

4 comments:

  1. A Small fact about Coca Cola.
    Until 1905, the soft drink, marketed as a tonic, contained extracts of cocaine as well as the caffeine-rich kola nut.

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  2. It is true. It is fairly common for herbalists to include stimulants in their preparations. We do it now, except that we use far less potent chemicals.

    A stimulant helps to increase circulation and thereby promotes delivery of the other constituents to the peripheral parts of the body. Especially useful when clients complain of numbness or cold in hands and feet.

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  3. "He also laments being unable to find the recipe referred to in period literature. "

    Actually, I mention a reference in period literature (The Fihrist) and give a recipe from a period source (13th c. Andalusian). But I wasn't aware of your Anglo-Saxon recipe, which I expect I'll try.

    The Andalusian recipe is in a chapter of drinks whose medicinal properties are mentioned.

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    Replies
    1. My apologies. When I wrote this some time ago, I had been given a handout which cited you and quoted you to the end of the author of the modern cookbook's name. I have since purchased the book on Amazon and see that you gave further explanation. You will have to let me know what you think of the Anglo Saxon recipe. I have many like it.

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