Learn how to make herbal cordials and specifically how to make spiced winter cordial. Cordials are delicious drinks that are meant to be drunk in small quantities and yet can still give you some wonderful herbal wellness support. This Spiced Winter Cordial combines honey, brandy, and herbs & spices to make a tasty treat to bring cozy warmth and rejuvenized joyful energy into your winter routine.
How to Make a Spiced Winter Cordial
I’ve been obsessed with cordials over the last few years. I’ve made a spring/summer cordial (Lemon Balm Cordial) and a romantic Valentine’s day cordial (Love Cordial) and during the fall I make this delicious Persimmon Pear Cordial recipe from Chestnut Herbs. All I needed was to figure out a good wintry cordial and I would have a delightful way to seasonally celebrate with cordials all year long.
Last year, I toyed around with various wintry ingredients and made an… adequate cordial beverage, but I knew I needed to really hone in on things in order to share the perfect winter cordial drink. So I pulled out all my spices and herbs and dug into researching flavor pairings to figure out the best flavor combination. And this year, I finally perfected a winter cordial recipe and I’m delighted to share it with you all. My Spiced Winter Cordial recipe is the perfect blend of spiced and woodsy herbs and spices with brandy and honey to make a smooth and delicious drink.
It’s the perfect thing to sip while cozying up next to your fireplace and poring over your favorite garden seed catalogs and planning out your next year’s garden. I wanted to focus on herbs and spices that boost immune health and also rejuvenate a tired spirit. I know lots of folks get seasonally sad during the winter, so I wanted to focus on a cordial that can bring a smile to your face and joy to your heart.
What is a Cordial?
Cordials are a delicious beverage that you take in small quantities at a time. I thought this quote was perfect for defining cordials:
“Cordials are tonics meant to be taken in small amounts, typically 1 ounce doses, to strengthen the body, mind, and spirit. This comforting and pleasant-tasting medicine can be made with any tonic herbs of your choosing, including herbs to help with digestion, sleep, the heart, or general well-being. Cordials are fun to make with friends, particularly during fruit harvest times, when you can add fresh…[fruit] to create a dynamic flavor and high nutritional value.“ (The Herbal Apothecary, a book by J.J. Pursell, pg. 194).
At a very basic level, cordials are made by combining tinctures (aka an alcohol infused with herbs/spices/fruit) with some sort of sweetener. You can use many different types of ingredients in homemade cordials, but the most popular ingredients are herbs and/or fruit.
What is the Difference Between a Cordial and an Elixir?
From my research, it seems that these days, most people use the terms ‘cordial’ and ‘elixir’ for the same herbal beverage. However, originally these were different drinks.
The amazing herbalist Robin Rose Bennett wrote “Elixirs can be magical and/or medicinal, and cordials have historically been prepared for comfort and heart health. I use the terms interchangeably for the most part, and some people refer to herbal liqueurs in the same way…” (Robin Rose Bennett, The Gift of Healing Herbs, pg. 45). The Colorado School of Clinical Herbalism states that “technically speaking, elixirs use dried plant material and cordials use fresh but the formal distinction between the two is largely lost today.” (source).
I think the word ‘cordial’ is very pleasant (possibly because of my love for the Anne of Green Gables books), so I personally prefer to use the term ‘cordial’ for my recipes.
What Sweeteners Can You Use in Cordials?
If you look up a lot of cordial recipes, you’ll quickly see that the most common sweetener used is sugar. There’s lots of recipes using common white sugar or using a homemade simple syrup that is made with sugar and water.
However, you can use other sweeteners besides sugar. You can also use honey or maple syrup, or even molasses if you like that extra depth of flavor. I like to avoid normal sugar whenever possible, so I like to use either local raw honey or organic maple syrup for my herbal concoctions. For this spiced winter cordial, I chose to use honey because I just wanted a sweetener that would bring smoothness to the drink. I think maple syrup might be delicious in this cordial, too.
You can adjust the sweetness of your homemade cordial to your taste preferences (but if you use less than the amount noted in the recipe, it can shorten the shelf life of your cordial).
A Closer Look at the Spiced Winter Cordial Ingredients
I am a nerd about researching things, so first I collected data on ALL the herbs and spices that folks consider “wintry” for seasonal eating and drinking. Then, I used my intuition and knowledge on flavor profiles to pull together the ones that I liked best.
(Note: And now for the very-necessary-these-days modern warning: I am not a doctor, PLEASE do your own research (and/or talk to a doctor) about your own health and also research herbs before using, etc.)
- Damiana has an earthy-spiced aroma that works great in a winter beverage. According to the very amazing Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, “[Damiana] is thought to replenish sexual vitality. Its nervine and toning properties make it a good general herb for the nervous system as well as a relaxant and antidepressant. It is especially helpful for those who feel ‘sexually inadequate,’ as it helps the body relax, releases tension, and allows the body to feel more comfortable.” Herbal Healing for Men: Remedies & Recipes, by Rosemary Gladstar, pg. 172).
- I’ve been really called to sassafras lately, so I knew I wanted to include it in my drink. Herbalist Robin Rose Bennett says “Sassafras is one of the best spirit-lifting infusions…in winter, I drink sassafras to chase the blues away.” (The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennett, pp. 271-3).
- I’ve been wanting to add sarsaparilla to things (and NOT just a root beer-flavored beverage) and this seemed like the perfect time to add it. Rosemary Gladstar wrote that it has a “rich, wonderful vanilla-like flavor…[and] is wonderful to blend with sassafras, birch bark, dandelion root, and echinacea for a super immune formula that’s delicious.” (Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar, pg. 363).
- Birch (specifically Betula lenta) has a wintergreen-type flavor and duh, it says winter in the flavor title, so obviously it needed to be used in my winter cordial. Robin Rose Bennett wrote that Birch (the Betula lenta variety) “gets vital energy flowing through the body, akin to the way sap begins to flow through the tree again as the light and warmth revive its circulation, calling it back to an active phase of growth after its winter’s rest.” (The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennett, pg. 293).
- I’ve been obsessed with cardamom lately. I’ve been adding it to my coffee, my hot chocolate, my breakfast scones and muffins, my cookies, and any other dessert where it sounds like a complimentary flavor to the recipe. Cardamom has been described as tasting like a mixture of cloves, pepper, sassafras, and allspice. So it works perfect with my winter cordial blend. I specifically used 13 cardamom pods in this recipe because 13 is my favorite number. Learn more about Cardamom here.
- Star Anise has a savory-sweet flavor to it, often compared to licorice with a slight cinnamon and clove taste. It sounded like the perfect flavor combo with my other ingredients, plus there was just something very ‘holiday-ish’ about the pretty Star Anise, so I really wanted to add it to my spiced winter cordial. Learn more about Star Anise here.
- Cinnamon is very obviously a wintry spice. Robin Rose Bennett wrote that it is “strong, tasty and warming, a winter-party favorite. It lifts the spirits, balances blood sugar, and stimulates digestion.” (The Gift of Healing Herbs, Robin Rose Bennett, pg. 432).
- Allspice is a beautiful pairing with cinnamon and star anise. I love it in my winter foods and beverages, so I wanted to use it in this recipe, too. It is known for being an immune booster and helpful for relaxing, both of which are helpful in the winter. Learn more about Allspice here.
Spiced Winter Cordial Recipe
- 2 Tbsp. dried Damiana leaf
- 1 Tbsp. dried Sassafras leaf
- 1 Tbsp. dried Birch Bark (Betula lenta variety)
- 1 Tbsp. dried Sarsaparilla root
- 1 Cinnamon stick
- 1 Star Anise
- 3 Allspice berries, slightly crushed
- The seeds from 13 Cardamom pods
- 2 cups brandy
- 1/4 cup raw honey
- In a pint-sized mason jar, put your herbs and spices and pour 2 cups of brandy on top. Put on the lid and gently shake.
- For the next 5-7 days, gently shake your cordial daily.
- Strain the herbs/spices out. Consider using a cheesecloth and mesh strainer, so you can squeeze every last bit of the brandy out of the used herbs/spices.
- Gently heat up the 1/4 cup honey. You want to get the honey runny without losing the medicinal quality (high heat will destroy the medicinal qualities).
- Add the runny honey to the brandy and stir/shake until combined.
- Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool and dark location. This cordial is best enjoyed in small quantities, like a small shot glass.
- Make sure you use a good-tasting brandy. I used to think brandy was disgusting until I went from using the cheapest bottles to the mid-priced ones. Now I think brandy is delicious. So consider tasting your brandy before making this cordial so you can make sure you’re starting with a medium that you actually like tasting.
- The Star Anise is quite potent. If you’re concerned you won’t like anise-flavoring in your spiced winter cordial, feel free to use half of a star anise instead.
- Taking out the seeds of 13 cardamom pods might seem tedious, but you can save time by simply cracking the pods open with the flat edge of a dinner knife and putting all the bits in the jar if you want.
- Feel free to play around with the recipe a bit. For example, this could be tasty with nutmeg and/or cloves added to it. If you cannot find Birch Bark, double up on the Sarsaparilla root. Or vice versa.
- I don’t recommend going over 7 days of infusing because the herbs/spices can get bitter after that. However, if Life gets crazy and you forget to strain your cordial on time, you can try adding more honey (and possibly some more brandy) to smooth out the bitterness. Adjust according to your tastebuds.
- For this spiced winter cordial, I chose to use honey because I just wanted a sweetener that would bring smoothness to the drink. I think maple syrup might be delicious in this cordial, too.
- If properly stored, it should last at least one year.
How to Serve Herbal Cordials
Cordials are best for slow sipping and intentional relaxation (whether by a cozy fireplace in the winter or lounging in a hammock in your backyard in the summer). You can simply enjoy your homemade spiced winter cordial in a small glass, ranging from 1 to 4 ounce servings.
Other Herbal Cordial Combinations
There are SO many delicious cordial recipes that I want to try in the future. Here are a few other cordial recipe ideas to inspire you (and me):
- Love Cordial (this is another recipe of mine that combines maple syrup, damiana, and cinnamon. It’s amazing!)
- Lemon Balm Cordial (my recipe for a spring and summer cordial. It’s delicious!)
- Cherry Cordial (you can use this recipe and switch to other fruits, too. I like the idea of making raspberry cordial and pretending I’m Anne of Green Gables).
- Hawthorn Cordial (great for the heart!)
- Winter Cordials (three recipes that use winter flavors or herbs/plants you can forage in the winter)
Where to Learn More About Using Herbs
I am passionate about learning how to use herbs, both medicinally and for culinary use. It’s so amazing to me to think that we have such potent plants right at our fingertips! Here are some of my favorite herb resources:
- Herbal Academy Courses: I am blown away by how amazing their herbal courses are! Gain confidence in your herbal adventures by taking one of their courses. I LOVE their Intermediate Herbal Course.
- Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health by Rosemary Gladstar: This book started me on my journey toward loving herbs and natural remedies. I still use this book first for all of my herbal adventures.
- The Gift of Healing Herbs, by Robin Rose Bennett: I devoured this book over the summer and it has become a beloved favorite. There are SO many notes, bookmarks, and underlined parts of my book! I highly recommend.
- Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves: This book is one of my most-used herbal books. I LOVE this book. The information is easy to read and I continue to be fascinated by it. It pairs really well with the Herbal Academy Intermediate Course.
- The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them by JJ Pursell: This book is a great quick-reference read for info on specific herbs and I love that there are so many pictures in it.
- DIY Bitters: Reviving The Forgotten Flavor by Guido Mase and Jovial King: This is my newest book and it’s been fantastic for learning new tincture/bitters recipes. I was super inspired in my tincture adventures due to the recipes in this book.