Herbally Healing Bronchitis // sick days & making syrup


So, I got bronchitis last week. On Sunday I suddenly felt a damp bog settle into my chest. Monday the cough began and Tuesday the fever set in. The rest of the week was spent bemoaning my existence and grappling with the three-headed dog of misery that is respiratory illness (as well as trying to tame its vicious pack leader, exhaustion).



Early on in this whole saga, before I realized I should probably be spending the majority of my time horizontal, I came to the decision that it was the perfect time to explore medicinal cough syrup making. My underlying motive was a desperate desire to sleep through the night. That morning had greeted me with a cruel slap of sunshine, the kind that only invades your face when you’ve gotten about a quarter of the sleep you meant to, and the rest of your night was so torn and perforated by dark dreams you wonder if you slept at all.  It’s really almost an altered state of consciousness. You wake up and find yourself sitting in your bed, inextricably wondering, “Is this real? Where is my bicycle? Did somebody really throw a baby off of that parking complex? Am I an Arabic spy?”



I went to the co-op and gathered all the herbs I thought I could possibly use. I brought them home and even went so far as to arrange a shot in my kitchen. (This is the moment when you realize, for good or for worse, you have become a blogger. Snot is escaping like a leaky faucet, you’re coughing so hard you have to take “breather breaks,” and every fiber of your being is pleading with you “please go lay down!” And yet… there you are, crouching on the cold tile in your kitchen trying to decide whether you should shift the porcelain plate of roots slightly to the right so that the ginger will have more space to shine.)

So syrup making began. The first step was to infuse the honey with elderberries. (Among other properties, elderberries are antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and have a particular affinity for the lungs). Using my fancy double boiler (Read: a mason jar lid balancing a small pot in a larger sauce pan) I infused my honey on low heat, with lots of stirring, for about 4 hours.

You will see, next to the syrup, is the bone broth soup I also magnanimously embarked upon making that evening. Bone broth is pretty much liquid gold when it comes to any sickness. When boiled, bones generously give up their incredible minerals and nutrients. In the form of a delicious soup, there is no better way to nourish and heal your body, mouthful by mouthful. But I digress…



The rest of the steps in syrup making, bone broth soup stewing, and driving oneself to the brink of an emotional breakdown, were not documented. But I’ll paint a picture for you. Once the syrup was done I made a very strong decoction of a ridiculous array of roots (really, you’d think one would want to simplify in a situation like this). Using equal amounts of water to plant material, I boiled the mixture down to a thick brown silt. Then I infused that mixture with two different bunches of herbs– a daytime mixture (which put the grand total of herbs at: osha, calamus, echinacea, elecampane, licorice, mullein, eucalyptus, marshmallow & ginger) and a nighttime mixture (marked by the inclusion of passionflower & skullcap). To put this in more descriptive terms: having now unchained myself from the stove, I took my murky pot of roots and poured about half of the boiling hot contents onto my hands, the counter, and the floor. That accomplished, I straggled to my tincture cabinet.

For medicinal syrups to last longer than a few weeks you want to preserve the mixture with alcohol (20% is ideal). Working with what I had, I ended up preserving the daytime mixture with tinctures of wild cherry bark (a premier anti-tussive/anti-cough herb), yarrow (my go-to cure-all for fevers and colds), and hawthorn berries (a lovely medicine, which I chose for its nervine properties and general yumminess). The nighttime mixture was anointed with passionflower (my favorite gentle sedative and comforting mind-calmer) and hops (an even stronger sedative).



At a quarter past midnight I had just finished screwing the lids on my bottles of syrup, my fever had spiked to a ear-whining buzz, and I was faced with the sisyphean task of cleaning the kitchen. I don’t have a picture but a small, sinister side of me wishes someone had been there to snap a secret shot of me– surrounded by piles of pots, pans, bottles, and spoons– sweeping the floor and openly weeping. Not my proudest moment. But there you have it.

So…Ladies and Gents, may I present to you the precious syrup twins:



Beauties, even after a week of consumption. I took these (plus high doses of spilanthes in tincture form, insanely bitter quarts of yellow root and other lung-happy roots, and daily steam inhalations with eucalyptus, sage, and tea tree) religiously for the next few days. Incredibly, I was on my feet and going for a walk by Friday. According to the doctor, this particular strain of bronchitis has been keeping people in bed for two weeks, so my jaunt down the street was no small feat.



Despite the odyssey that was making these syrups, which includes (in my opinion) the night I tried to pour syrup into a measuring spoon from my bed in the complete darkness and ended up dumping a good shot glassful onto my floor, the whole journey turned out pretty good. All in all, I’d say it was worth it. Kinda.