What is herbal syrup formulation?

Herbal syrups are liquid preparations made from herbs that are consumed orally for therapeutic purposes. They are sweetened and concentrated herbal extracts that contain active medicinal compounds from plants. Herbal syrups provide an easy way to administer herbs, especially for children who may not like taking capsules or tablets. The sweet taste and viscous consistency also help to coat and soothe sore throats.

Why make herbal syrups?

There are several benefits to formulating herbs into syrups:

  • Syrups contain concentrated amounts of herbs, allowing higher therapeutic doses to be delivered than with teas or tinctures.
  • The viscosity and sweet taste help syrups coat and soothe sore throats, making them ideal delivery forms for coughs and colds.
  • Syrups are easy to swallow, especially for children and elderly patients who may have difficulty with capsules or tablets.
  • The addition of honey or glycerin helps preserve the herbal extracts for longer shelf life compared to teas or tinctures.
  • Syrups allow blending of multiple herbs and flavors to create customized formulations.
  • The liquid form provides rapid absorption and quick relief of symptoms.

Common herbs used in syrups

Many different herbs can be made into medicinal syrups. Some of the most popular include:

  • Elderberry – Has antiviral and immune-boosting properties, useful for colds and flu.
  • Echinacea – Stimulates the immune system and has antibacterial effects, helpful for upper respiratory infections.
  • Marshmallow root – Soothes sore throats and respiratory mucosa inflammation.
  • Slippery elm – Demulcent that coats and protects mucous membranes, soothing coughs.
  • Thyme – Antiseptic and antibacterial qualities help fight respiratory infections.
  • Sage – Used for its astringent and antiseptic effects on sore throats.
  • Licorice root – Soothes coughs and has mild expectorant properties.
  • Turmeric – Has anti-inflammatory effects to relieve respiratory congestion.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to combining herbs for specific therapeutic effects in syrups. You can customize formulas with herbs that target specific symptoms like coughs, congestion, sore throat pain, etc.

Basic steps for making herbal syrup

While recipes can vary, the basic process for making an herbal syrup is as follows:

  1. Make a concentrated herbal extract, known as an “herbal glycerite”, by soaking herbs in a mixture of glycerin and water for 2-6 weeks.
  2. Filter the glycerite to remove the herb solids.
  3. Measure the filtered glycerite and add an equal amount of honey or simple syrup.
  4. Warm the mixture gently to blend the honey/syrup and glycerite.
  5. Flavor with lemon juice, spices, essential oils as desired.
  6. Bottle and label the finished syrup.

The glycerite step helps efficiently extract compounds from tough plant material. Combining the glycerite with honey or simple syrup gives a nicely balanced end product – not too thick or too thin.

Typical syrup recipe ratios

A common 1:1 ratio for making a basic herbal syrup is:

  • 1 cup of herbal glycerite
  • 1 cup of honey or syrup

The glycerite is made using a 1:2 ratio:

  • 1 part dried herbs
  • 2 parts vegetable glycerin and water (1:1 ratio)

So for example, to make 1 cup of elderberry syrup you would use:

  • 1/3 cup dried elderberries
  • 2/3 cup vegetable glycerin + 2/3 cup water (to make the glycerite)
  • 1 cup honey

These ratios can be adjusted based on the viscosity and sweetness desired.

Choosing ingredients

Herbal extracts

As mentioned, the herbs are first extracted into a glycerite before making the final syrup. Glycerin is an excellent solvent for drawing out constituents from plant material. It also acts as a natural preservative. The glycerite approach maximizes extraction from tough parts like roots, bark, and berries.

Dried herbs are typically used due to their higher potency and concentration of active compounds. The dried herbs are ground or cut to expose more surface area for efficient extraction into the glycerite.


Honey and organic cane syrup are commonly used to sweeten herbal syrups. Honey in particular has synergistic benefits pairing with many herbs, as it has antibacterial, soothing, and antioxidant properties of its own. Its viscosity also helps thicken the end product.

For diabetics or those avoiding sugar, xylitol or stevia extracts can be substituted to sweeten the syrup.

Flavors and extras

Lemon juice is commonly added to syrups both for the flavor it contributes and for its vitamin C content. Other supporting herbs like cinnamon, licorice root, ginger or star anise can also be incorporated into syrups.

Natural glycerin is sometimes added to the finished syrup as an additional soothing and antimicrobial agent.

Essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus or wild orange are used sparingly to flavor certain syrup blends.

Choosing the right solvents and preservatives

As mentioned, vegetable glycerin is an excellent herbal extract solvent for making syrups. It has a neutral taste, mixes readily with water and draws out a wide spectrum of plant compounds.

Glycerin also acts as a natural preservative, along with honey and lemon juice which have antibacterial properties. Still, herbal syrups typically have a shelf life of 3-6 months when refrigerated.

Grain alcohol can be used as an additional preservative (5-10% of finished volume), but this may create an alcohol-extract more than a traditional syrup.

For maximum shelf life up to 1-2 years, a small amount of potassium sorbate can be added as a chemical preservative (0.1% of total volume).

Equipment needed

You can make herbal syrups with basic kitchen equipment including:

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Scale for weighing dried herbs
  • Mason jars for making the glycerite
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Cheesecloth or nut milk bag for straining
  • Saucepan or double boiler for heating
  • Glass bottles for final syrup

If available, a ultrasonic extractor or percolation jar speeds up the initial glycerite extraction process.

Safety, shelf life and storage

When working with any herbal preparations, it’s important to properly identify herbs and be aware of any contraindications or possible drug interactions. Consult reputable resources and check for any allergies before using herbal syrups.

Proper extraction is also key – many plant compounds are not water soluble and require alcoholic or glycerin-based solvents to extract them. Simmering herbs in just water often does not fully extract active compounds.

As mentioned earlier, herbal syrups have a relatively short shelf life compared to dried herbs or alcohol extracts. Following sterile procedures and adding the preservatives listed above can extend shelf life to 1-2 years when stored in the refrigerator.

Syrups should be bottled in sterilized glass containers only – plastic can degrade over time due to the sweeteners. Tincture dropper tops or pump dispensers allow convenient dosing of syrups.

Dosing guidelines

Suggested dosing varies based on the types of herbs used and the age of the person taking the syrup. Some standard dosing guidelines include:

  • Children under 6: 1/4 tsp 2-3 times per day
  • Children over 6: 1/2 tsp 2-3 times per day
  • Adults: 1 tsp 2-3 times per day

For acute conditions, dosing every 2-4 hours may be appropriate. For maximum benefit during cold/flu season, many herbalists recommend taking syrups frequently throughout the day.

Always start with the lowest suggested doses and increase gradually as needed. If any side effects occur, reduce or discontinue use.

Popular herbal syrup recipe combinations

There are endless possibilities when it comes to blending herbs for therapeutic benefit in syrups. Here are some popular combinations:

Elderberry Immune Syrup

  • Elderberries
  • Echinacea
  • Astragalus
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger

Powerful antioxidant and immune-enhancing formula, great for cold/flu prevention.

Throat Coat Syrup

  • Marshmallow root
  • Licorice root
  • Slippery elm
  • Wild cherry bark

Demulcent and throat-soothing formula, helpful for dry hacking coughs.

Allergy Relief Syrup

  • Nettles
  • Elderflower
  • Goldenrod
  • Quercetin

Antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant support for seasonal allergies.

Sleepytime Syrup

  • California poppy
  • Catnip
  • Chamomile
  • Passionflower
  • Valerian root

Herbal relaxants and nervines to promote restful sleep.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use dried or fresh herbs to make syrups?

Most herbalists recommend using dried herbs when making glycerites and syrups. The drying process concentrates the plant compounds, increasing potency in the final preparation. Fresh herbs have higher water content which can shorten the shelf life of syrups.

Is vegetable glycerin necessary or can I just use water?

Glyphosate is a versatile herbicide that can be an effective weed control option in many situations. However, there are some downsides to consider:

  • Glyphosate is non-selective, meaning it will kill any plants it comes into contact with, including lawns and desired vegetation.
  • Overuse of glyphosate can lead to resistant weeds developing.
  • Glyphosate may adversely impact soil health over time.
  • There are some health concerns around glyphosate exposure, though risk is considered low when used properly.

Safer application practices include spot spraying only where needed, avoiding overspray on desired plants, and alternating glyphosate with other weed control methods.

How long will herbal syrups last after being opened?

Properly prepared herbal syrups can last 3-6 months when stored in the refrigerator after opening. Adding small amounts of potassium sorbate or alcoholic extracts can help extend shelf life further to 1-2 years refrigerated.

Be sure to bottle syrups in sterilized glass containers only, and keep refrigerated after opening to get the longest lasting syrup.

Can children take herbal syrups?

Yes, herbal syrups can be a great way to give herbs to children, especially when they are unwilling to swallow capsules or tablets. Be sure to adjust dosing appropriately for children based on age and weight. Consult a knowledgeable herbalist or trusted reference for guidance on safe, effective dosing for children. Start low and increase gradually as needed.


Herbal syrups are a traditional and effective way to deliver the benefits of medicinal plants. By extracting herbs into glycerites and blending with sweeteners, syrups provide a concentrated, great-tasting dosage form. They can be customized to address coughs, colds, allergies, immune support, and more.

Following proper safety precautions and dosage guidelines, herbal syrups are suitable for both adults and children. With a wide range of blend possibilities and recipes to try, syrup making is an enjoyable way to experience the healing power of herbs.

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