How to Make Lemon Balm Cordial
Learn how to make herbal cordials and specifically how to make lemon balm 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 Lemon Balm Cordial combines honey and lemon balm tincture to make a tasty treat to brighten your day.
The nights are crisp and cool and the days are sunny and warm. It’s spring right now and I’m loving it. While I still don’t care for temps over 75 degrees Fahrenheit (I reread my own words on finding joy in the summer ALL.THE.TIME. during the hot summer months), upstate South Carolina does know how to have spectacularly perfect spring weather.
And while I’m rushing about starting seeds, sowing seeds, cleaning up garden beds, harvest winter crops, planting spring/summer crops, and all those other hectic activities of spring, I’m also trying to spend some time slowing down a bit and simply admire the way my yard is slowly awakening. The buzz of insects and bees gets louder every day. My hyacinths almost overwhelm me with their intoxicating scent. The birds trill happy songs at me as I fill their bird feeders.
Life is good and I really do try hard to find the balance between being busy and slowing down. Which is why I made a Lemon Balm Cordial.
Why I am Making a Lemon Balm Cordial
There are a few reasons why I’m making a lemon balm cordial. First: lemon balm is super tasty. I make this lemon balm lemonade recipe pretty much all summer long. I really love the taste and scent of lemon balm and I was looking for another way to add lemon balm to my diet.
I have also learned through my herbal adventures that lemon balm tincture is one of the tastier tinctures you can make. So I naturally decided that taking an already-tasty lemon balm tincture and making it into an even more delicious lemon balm cordial was a great choice for one of my first attempts at making homemade cordial.
Secondly, my garden is overrun with lemon balm and I am desperately trying to find new ways to use it. Lemon balm is similar to mint: it can be kinda invasive in a garden. Unlike mint, however, my lemon balm spreads from seed as well as roots, so I find new lemon balm popping up in every corner of my garden.
Since it smells good and the bees love the flowers, I don’t like the idea of tearing them out (I’m too soft and romantic at heart), so I let them spread like crazy, but this now means my garden is overflowing with lemon balm. Lemon balm does not dry well (it loses its’ aromatic flavors rather quickly in dried-form), so I’m always on the lookout for ways to use fresh lemon balm. Lemon balm tincture is best made with fresh lemon balm, so I’ve got a few jars of the tincture in my home and it sounded like fun to use the tincture to make a cordial.
Finally, I need to include more lemon balm in my diet for the herbal wellness properties of the herb. I’m sure that I’m not the only one dealing with some moodiness issues after the last few years. I was making a list of herbs to use for my ‘mood decline’ and then thought, “duh, Cris, you have plenty of lemon balm you can use for this!”.
Here’s what one of my favorite herb books has to say about lemon balm’s health benefits and uses: “This delightful lemon-scented garden nervine calms without sedating and can improve cognition and mood…it [is] useful for mild mood funks, anxiety, insomnia, nervous indigestion, restlessness…[and more].” (Body Into Balance, by Maria Noel Groves, pg. 59).
You can learn more about using lemon balm in my post: Everything You Need to Know About Lemon Balm.
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 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 a Tincture?
Tinctures are simply extracts of herbs (or fruit…but since I’m focusing on a lemon balm cordial here, I’ll be referencing herbs only in my instructions for the rest of this post) in alcohol. I’ll write a more-thorough post about tinctures in the future, but at a very basic level, you take herbs, either fresh or dried, put them in a jar and top off the jar with your preferred alcohol.
Most folks (including myself) use vodka as the alcohol, partly because of the price, and partly because it’s nice to use an alcohol that doesn’t have a strong flavor (but you can use other alcohols, too, including rum, brandy, and gin). It’s best to use higher proof alcohols, and the most commonly used alcohols are either 80 proof or 100 proof. I prefer using a good-quality 100 proof vodka for most of my tinctures.
It can get complicated with different methods (folk method, math-based methods, etc.) for making the tinctures and it depends on the specific herbs you use, too, but a very common formula is:
- When creating tinctures with fresh herbs, try using 1 part herbs to 2 parts alcohol
- When creating tinctures with dried herbs, consider using 1 part herbs to 5 parts alcohol
This basic formula was taken from The Herbal Apothecary, a book by J.J. Pursell, pg. 220. Check out my favorite herbal resources at the bottom of this post for more great herbal books and courses for learning more about making tinctures.
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 lemon balm cordial, since lemon balm has a bright and delicate taste, I chose to use honey so that the lemon balm flavoring really shines.
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).
What is the Method For Making a Cordial?
There are actually several methods for making homemade cordials, and I found it so confusing that I kept avoiding making one because I didn’t know which method was the best. I finally just chose the one that made the most sense with my lifestyle and that’s the one I give thorough instructions for farther down in this post. However, you can choose any of these options, depending on what works best for you.
Common Cordial-Making Methods Include:
- Method #1: Making an Herbal/Fruit Simple Syrup and Mixing it with Alcohol
This is a ‘quick method’ for folks who want to try a cordial but don’t “have the time” to slowly infuse things over 3-6 weeks (like the other two methods below). You basically simmer herbs and/or fruit with your sweetener on the stove top and create a flavored simple syrup. You can then combine this flavored simple syrup with whatever alcohol you want to use (including wine) for drinking right away.
A quick method like this is not my preferred method because I like slower projects that are full of intention over a longer time period. I’m not a ‘quick and easy’ type of gal in the kitchen. It also involves making a simple syrup, which is usually made with sugar, and like I already mentioned, I prefer avoiding processed sugar and using other natural sweeteners instead. Also, you do have to simmer a simple syrup for a bit of time, so while you aren’t waiting 3-6 weeks, you are still spending a decent amount of time in the kitchen in one setting.
- Method #2: Combining Tincture and Sweetener Immediately
This method combines the herbs/fruit, alcohol, and sweetener together right away, and then you put it in a dark and cool place and let it infuse for 4-6 weeks before straining out the herbs and fruit. This Hawthorn Cordial recipe from LearningHerbs is an example of this type of method.
I decided not to do this method because I wanted to be able to make smaller batches of cordials in order to experiment with flavors. Once I have made plenty of cordials and I’ve decided on my favorite combination of sweeteners, herbs/fruit, and alcohol, then I might change to this method.
- Method #3: Making a Tincture First and Then Adding a Sweetener Later
This method is great for letting you make simple tinctures and letting them infuse in a dark and cool place for 4-6 weeks, and then combining them with sweeteners for drinking and future storage.
This is the method I chose, because it sounded perfect for making small batches of cordials in order to figure out my favorite combinations. For example, I can take a small amount of my lemon balm tincture and mix it with honey and see if I like that flavor combo. Then, I can figure out if I want to add more sweetener than the recipe calls for, or if I want to make another small batch with maple syrup instead so I can compare/contrast the different tastes from the two cordials. I can also choose to combine lemon balm tincture with another tincture (herbal or fruit) and various sweeteners in order to make more fun recipes.
Lemon Balm Cordial Recipe
- Fresh Lemon Balm
- 80 or 100 proof alcohol (I used vodka)
- Sweetener of Choice (I used honey)
- Harvest and rinse your lemon balm. I harvested the top 3 inches of my lemon balm plants, mainly because the tops are cleaner and more vibrant. I then gently shook the lemon balm and put the bundle on my garden bench for 15 minutes (to encourage any bugs to leave the plants without harming them). I then rinsed the lemon balm under the kitchen faucet to remove any final debris. After that, I gently scrunched up the leaves in my hand to help the leaves to start releasing their fragrance/flavor. You could also grind them in a mortar and pestle, but I find gently scrunching them to be all that is needed. Pat them dry with a clean towel (we don’t want excess water moisture in our tincture).
- Fill a mason jar (your choice of size) halfway with fresh lemon balm. Pour your alcohol over the herbs to the top of the jar. Try to keep as many of the leaves under the alcohol as possible.
- Put a lid on the jar and label it with the contents and the date. Store it in a cool and dark place to allow it to infuse for 4 weeks.
- Every 1-2 days, gently shake the jar and try to make sure the ingredients are covered by alcohol (top off your jar with more alcohol if necessary).
- After 4 weeks, strain your lemon balm tincture with a fine mesh strainer into a clean labelled jar. Squeeze every last precious drop of the alcohol from the lemon balm and compost the used herbs.
- Prepare your cordial: use a clean jar and combine whatever amount of your lemon balm tincture you would like to use (you can save your remaining lemon balm tincture for future products) with your preferred sweetener (I used honey). The ratio of tincture to sweetener is: 1 part tincture to ½ part sweetener. Example: 2 cups tincture and 1 cup of sweetener.
- Mix well. Adjust the sweetness to your preference. Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool and dark location.
**It’s important to keep the lemon balm leaves under the alcohol during the tincture process (otherwise they get discolored and slimy very quickly). Consider using a fermenting weight to help keep the leaves under the alcohol. I used these fermenting weights.
**Don’t forget to label things! And either put the date on the label or on your calendar. It’s amazing how quickly your mind can forget which tincture you’ve made and when it’s ready for use….
**You might need to gently heat up your sweetener, depending on the time of year and what type of sweetener you use. I had to slightly warm up heat my honey in order to get it to mix well with the tincture. Just don’t use high heat, which can cancel the medicinal benefits of either your tincture or your sweetener (if using raw honey).
**If you keep the ratio of tincture to sweetener at: 1 part tincture to ½ part sweetener and you store it in a dark and cool location, your cordial can last about 1 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 cordial in a small glass, ranging from 1 to 4 ounce servings.
You can also serve them warm for a winter treat or add them to a tall glass with some club soda or bubbling water or tonic water and some ice in the summer for a cool and bubbly treat. Try 1 to 3 teaspoons of the cordial in approximately 1 cup of sparkling water as a ratio for your summer cordials.
Personally, we love just simply sipping on this Lemon Balm Cordial from shot glasses while sitting outside. It’s a super delicious cordial recipe and I don’t think it needs anything else added to it.
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!)
- 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)
- Digestive Cordial (combine anise seed, fennel seed, and coriander seeds for a digestive cordial…I already make digestive bitters and fennel tincture so it would be easy to expand into digestive cordials)
- Ginger Peach (mix ginger root and peach slices together…sounds great for the summer!)
You can be so creative with your herb, spice, and fruit combinations for making homemade cordials that are both delicious and give you some sort of health boosts. Please feel free to share your cordial recipes with me in the comments below!
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.
- Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves: This book is my second 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.
More Delicious Herb-Based Recipes:
- Honey-Sweetened Lemon Balm Lemonade
- How to Make Elderberry Syrup
- Cardamom-Spiced Hot Chocolate Recipe
- Herbs De Provence Salt Recipe
- Sleepytime Brandied Berries and Cherries