UPDATED: new recipes added
Syrups and other medicinal preparations that contain some form of sugar are popular with the public (because sweet things taste nice), but are less popular with practitioners, who hesitate to contribute to health problems such as dental decay, cardiovascular disease and late-onset diabetes by adding to a diet that may already be overburdened with refined carbohydrates. These two opposing forces have to be balanced – some of the benefits of syrups and the like will become apparent as we go on, suggesting that despite our concerns, a small range of sweet medicines, perhaps designed for very short-term therapeutic strategies anyway, are a worthy component of a comprehensive approach to prescribing.
As there are several formulae or ‘recipes’ in this section, a number of fairly standard abbreviations are used. If you are unfamiliar with any of them:-
Some notes on utensils & techniques
Because syrups are relatively unstable, and very prone to infection and hence fermentation, extra care must be taken with hygiene. Make sure all chopping boards, pans, utensils, filter bags, press cylinders, and so on, have been thoroughly cleaned before use. Storage bottles should not only be clean but sterilised (glass bottles are most easily sterilised by placing in an oven at 120 – 140 °C for half an hour). It’s also important to store syrups in a cool, stable environment – fluctuating temperatures are often the culprit when syrups ‘go off’ or crystallise prematurely.
There are often instructions herein to bring a syrup in the making to simmering point. There are many recipes that suggest doing as cooks do when making jams & preserves, to bring the syrup to a full boil before simmering briefly. However, this seems unnecessarily destructive of the medicinal constituents concerned, and there may also be problems caused by undue evaporation. At the opposite end of the scale, others reason that water freshly boiled from the kettle, or a decoction previously made, will already be sterile, as will the sugar, so all that is needed is to make the syrup over gentle heat sufficient to dissolve the sugar. A compromise is to bring the syrup just up to simmering point, when the first few bubbles appear. This should not be too destructive, and certainly enough to be certain of sterilisation, bearing in mind that the boiling point of the syrup will be higher than water anyway.
Instructions often include the phrase ‘press and filter’. If you have a tincture press fitted with filter bags, this is the ideal. However, for small batches or in a domestic kitchen environment, you can use a ‘jelly bag’ or simply a square of muslin, or even a clean tea-towel. Place this over a kitchen strainer that nests reasonably well in the top of a jug or basin. Pour the liquid through it, then gather up the saturated herbs in the bag or cloth and squeeze out further liquid with a wringing action. This will not yield as much of the liquid as is possible with a press, but not far off.
Instructions may suggest that you adjust the volume to e.g. 1 litre after pressing and filtering. If there has been very little evaporation and/or you are using an efficient press you may find there is a small surplus of liquor to discard (or you can do some arithmetic to increase subsequent ingredients proportionately). Likewise if you’re using the ‘pour and wring’ method, you may have to top up the volume with a little extra plain water before proceeding with the recipe.
A syrup is a saturated solution of sucrose in water – into which herbal or other constituents may be incorporated. Any form of sucrose (‘sugar’) can be used, but normally common granulated sugar, white or brown, is convenient. There is no general benefit in using more expensive versions such as invert sugar or fructose, whilst less refined sugars such as ‘muscovado’ can cause unexpected problems due to impurities, and are also likely to have a higher water content that is difficult to allow for in formulation.
A syrup is the cheapest of all forms of preserved liquid medicine. One must be cautious of adding further sugar to the already over-sweet western diet, but in short-term use medicinal syrups are unlikely to make a significant contribution, and may often prove the preparation of choice.
When treating children, a syrup may sometimes make the difference to whether a medicine is taken or not. Likewise with adults a syrup may help a very bitter medicine, for instance, to be tolerated better.
Syrup is demulcent in its own right, and logically suggests itself for demulcent preparations acting on the throat, digestive tract and, by reflex, the lungs.
In energetic terms, syrups are an excellent medium for nutritive (yin) tonics. Note the contrast with the yang nature of alcoholic preparations.
Traditionally syrups were always favoured in the case of ‘liver relaxants’ (primarily cholagogues), and also for laxatives, often formulated as quite complex compounds.
Syrups can be mixed with alcoholic extracts and virtually all other liquid preparations for internal medication (provided these are preserved in their own right), and with small quantities of essential oils. Very fine powders may also be held in suspension.
The classic formula for making a simple syrup is to dissolve 2 parts sugar in 1 part water. (For example, 2 kilos of sugar in 1 litre of water). This is effectively the upper limit of syrup ‘strength’ (a higher sugar proportion will probably prove impossible to pour and will crystallise within days). It’s interesting that this upper limit should be the traditional standard, evidencing the anxiety that anything weaker is vulnerable to ‘going off’ through fermentation. However, at this strength the sugar content will still start to crystallise immediately if it has not been completely dissolved, or can be expected to anyway after a couple of months or so. Meanwhile it should certainly preserve safely and prove pourable. It may seem illogical that so much of a solid can dissolve in so little liquid, which is why beginners often reverse these proportions by mistake, with disastrous results.
The lower limit in terms of syrup strength is a weight:volume ratio of 1.6:1 which should preserve adequately for several months provided the equipment and bottles are sterile and it is not subsequently unstoppered too often. This also gives a very easy-to-remember formula of 2lbs sugar to 1 pint water for those of us still comfortable with imperial measures.
Further complications can be introduced by the nature of the herbal medicaments incorporated. The presence of significant amounts of mucilage, gums, resins or powders may thicken the syrup to an unpourable state. However, mucilage, gums, or incorporated substances that have any residual water content will increase the potential for infection & thence fermentation. Or there again, inclusion of medicaments containing significant proportions of volatile oils or antioxidants such as ascorbic acid may render an otherwise dangerously weak syrup much more stable, or one can simply ‘cheat’ by adding up to 15% alcohol.
For these reasons, it’s not possible to give general formulae as in the case of e.g. ethanolic extracts, so usually sample formulae that have been tried and tested are given instead. It’s also interesting to note that syrups are usually made to incorporate more than one herb, and can in some cases be quite complex. Fear not, it’s usually a fairly simple matter to adapt these examples to your own use, provided you stay within sensible bounds.
With all syrups, and particularly if you are breaking new ground, accept the discipline of checking them every fortnight or so to observe that they are neither crystallising nor fermenting. Traditionally syrups are kept corked rather than capped, so that if fermentation should occur the cork blows out rather than the bottle exploding!
Many practices will stock a bottle of Simple Syrup for extemporaneous dispensing; sensible quantities of tinctures, extracts, essential oils or finely powdered herbs can be added to produce a palatable and demulcent result.
To make Simple Syrup, bring 500ml of water to the boil and stir in 1kg of sugar. Continue stirring over heat until you are quite sure all the sugar has dissolved. Remove immediately from the heat & cover to avoid undue evaporation, and when cool, pour into a sterilized bottle. However, note that this will yield little more than a litre of syrup, (nearer 1.1L if there hasn’t been too much evaporation) and it’s also interesting to weigh it – it should be close to 1.5Kg. You’ve just learnt that sugar is nearly twice as heavy as water.
Wild Cherry Bark Syrup
Simple syrup can be used as the solvent in which to macerate herbs, rather in the same fashion as making a tincture. This is particularly recommended for Wild Cherry Bark, Prunus serotina, as the therapeutic hydrocyanates that develop on exposure to water are not stable to heat. Use about 200g of fresh or dried Cherry bark per litre of simple syrup, leaving to macerate for 3-4 weeks before straining and bottling.
Although Prunus serotina is always recommended, good results have been demonstrated using the fresh bark of P. avium, the domestic Sweet Cherry.
SYRUPS FROM INFUSIONS & DECOCTIONS
Instead of plain water, as employed in Simple Syrup, an infusion, decoction, or combined infusion & decoction can be used for the aqueous fraction. You may also opt for a lower ratio of sugar to water in many cases. There is also no reason why some or all the ingredients should not be fresh herbs when available, as their water content will not affect formulation.
Thyme & Liquorice Syrup
There are dozens of different recipes for this popular syrup, a great standby for coughs caused by seasonal infections.
|rad||Glycyrrhiza glabra, cut||75||gms|
Place the cut Liquorice root in the water, bring to the boil, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, adding either fresh or dried Thyme herb for the last 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, and when cool enough to handle, press and filter. Adjust the volume of the resultant liquor to 1 litre and return to the heat. Stir in the sugar and continue stirring as you bring it to simmering point, ensuring all the sugar has dissolved, and remove immediately from the heat. Bottle when cool.
A few drops of essential oil of Thyme will help to achieve a more potent and better-preserved result. It’s also common to add other essential oils or tinctures according to the nature of the cough to be treated – you may well find yourself unwittingly creating a linctus.
This unusual but popular syrup is a great standby for ‘acidity’ and heartburn, from hiatus hernia, reflux, gastric erosion etc. The lemon juice, apart from being therapeutic, effectively preserves this otherwise low-sugar formula. It’s very viscous, but will just about pour, being most easily dosed straight from the bottle in approx. 5 – 10 ml doses as required.
|rad||Althaea officinalis, dry, powdered||60||gms|
|tr||Calendula officinalis, 96%||approx||50||ml|
|Juice of 2 fresh lemons|
Wet finely powdered Marshmallow root with sufficient Marigold tincture to work into a smooth paste. Add the water a little at a time, stirring constantly. Cover and stand for at least 2 hours, even overnight. Place in a pan over heat, pour in the sugar and bring to simmering point, stirring throughout until the sugar is fully dissolved. Stir in the lemon juice thoroughly and remove from the heat. Bottle when cool.
Fresh Marshmallow Syrup
One would never have credited that a viable syrup could be made from fresh marshmallow root… until Therri Lahood came up with this fantastic method: –
Harvest fresh root and scrub off dirt. Using a potato peeler or sharp knife, peel off and discard the hard outer skin. Chop root into small pieces, or bash with a hammer, (or blitz in a food processor?), the point being to break it up and expose as much of the surface area as possible. Rinse with cold water quickly to remove any remaining dirt. Place in a large bowl/pot and cover with cold water, leave to stand overnight. Transfer to a jelly bag and leave to drip through (for several hours, or squeeze out the last of it if you’re more impatient). Pour the resulting liquor into a large pan, adding 2 parts of sugar to 1 part of marshmallow liquid. Slowly heat the liquid to simmering point, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and carefully skim any scum from the surface. To each litre of syrup stir in the juice of 1 lemon and 25 ml of Calendula officinalis tincture. Bottle and store in a cool place.
- The addition of 5ml per litre of rose aromatic water will make the soul sing!
- The syrup usually thickens further in the following week or two.
- Keep an eye on the syrup in stock – if it starts to look lively, add a little more tincture of Calendula.
- The same method and proportions can be used to make a syrup of limeflowers (Tilia europaea). There may be other applications to explore.
Syrup of Figs
There are plenty of recipes available for this old favourite, but many modern ones are too dilute to be effective, others are unfiltered – the presence of fragmented seed capsules make it unpleasant to take for some, a little too abrasive on the bowel for others. Syrup of Figs is primarily a bulking laxative, i.e. it helps to soften the stools by retaining fluid – but it also has a mild stimulating edge.
|Figs, dried, organic||
|Half a lemon|
|Sugar, dark brown||
Place the figs in a pan, pour on boiling water sufficient to cover, leave to steep overnight. The next day, blitz in a food processor or liquidizer. Return the resulting pulp to the pan, pour on sufficient extra water to cover again, and simmer gently for two hours, stirring occasionally. Leave until cool enough to handle, then either press and filter (press very cautiously to avoid bursting the press bag), or better still, drip through a jelly bag overnight.
Place the resulting liquor in a clean pan and simmer until reduced to 500ml. Stir in the sugar until dissolved, and remove from the heat. When cool, stir in the juice of half a lemon. Adjust the final volume to 1000ml with further cold water, bottle and seal. The syrup may gel temporarily, making it difficult to pour, but this will clear in a day or two.
Dose: 5 – 15ml at bedtime. Where applicable, it can be mixed with 20 – 30% of a stimulating laxative mix (based on Senna, for instance, and incorporating carminatives, of course).
For infants who have got into a vicious circle of constipation perpetuated by the fear of a painful bowel movement, add 20% tincture of Viburnum opulus, and perhaps some ‘letting go’ flower essences. Dose: 5ml at bedtime, taken for about 2 weeks to break the pattern.
It’s sometimes appropriate to use a concentrated decoction as the aqueous fraction, particularly if the herb concerned is stable to heat. This approach was much favoured in the past as it made it possible to produce syrups with a 1:5 herb to product ratio, much the same as standard tinctures. Barberry is just one of many examples. There’s also no reason why several herbs might not be incorporated.
Place the Barberry bark in sufficient water to cover well, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1 – 2 hours, topping up the water if necessary. Remove from the heat, press & filter when cool enough to handle. Return the decoction to the heat, simmering again until it has reduced to 500ml. (If you have reduced it too much, which can easily happen, top it up to 500ml with plain water). Add the sugar, bring it back to simmering point whilst stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat and bottle when cool.
PREPARATIONS FROM FRESH FRUITS
Syrups, cordials and robs made from fresh fruits continue to enjoy enormous popularity in ‘kitchen pharmacy’, this being a way of preserving the nutritive and health-giving properties of garden or foraged fruits for year-round use. Maximum sugar content is required for cordials (which are subsequently diluted to make a cold drink), whilst robs mostly rely on concentrating the juice or pulp of a fruit by evaporation to the point where its own inherent sugars will act as sufficient preservative. There are hundreds of recipes available, the broad variety of methods and proportions reflecting both the different physical characteristics of the fruits in question, and their inherent sugar content (mostly in the form of fructose). From a medicinal point of view, syrups, etc. made from Elderberries, Figs, Hawthorn berries, and Rosehips all have a place in any dispensary. Here, Elderberries will be given as a working example of the three different preparations:-
This great standby for treating the common cold is fairly typical in that it incorporates other ingredients that help to potentiate its therapeutic action. There are many variations – you can make up your own. Note the unusually low sugar content, (1:1) reflecting the fact that the berries will have a significant sugar content of their own.
|fr||Elderberries, fresh, ripe||1||kg|
|fr||Cloves, whole, dry||3||gms|
|Juice of 2-3 fresh lemons|
Strip the Elderberries from their stalks using a dining fork, discarding any blemished or under-ripe berries. Place them in a pan with water sufficient to just cover. Break up the Cinnamon sticks, chop the Ginger coarsely, and place these together with the Cloves in a scrap of muslin or ‘j-cloth’ tied into a small bag with string. Place this in with the Elderberries. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, remove the bag of spices, then press and filter the decoction. Adjust the volume to 1 litre. Return to the heat, stir in the sugar and continue stirring as you bring to simmering point, ensuring all the sugar has dissolved, then remove immediately from the heat. When cool, stir in the lemon juice thoroughly, and bottle.
Cordials are a preserved sugar-based preparation designed for later dilution in water to provide a cold drink, appropriate for summer use, that is refreshing, thirst-quenching and may also be therapeutic. Historically the term ‘cordial’ means a heart tonic, but in the sense of the heart being the seat of courage – so cordials, made from appropriate herbs, were customarily taken before battle!
Modern recipes for cordials will try to maximise both flavour and sugar content in order to provide something that is well concentrated for economical use but will not taste insipid on dilution.
|fr||Elderberries, fresh, ripe||1||kg|
|fr||Lemons, whole, unwaxed||x||2-3|
Strip the Elderberries from their stalks using a dining fork, discarding any blemished or under-ripe berries. Place them in a pan with water sufficient to just cover. Bring to the boil, cover, and simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Slice the lemons finely and add these for the last five minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to stand overnight, then press and filter. Adjust the volume to 1 litre. Stir in the sugar over heat and continue stirring as you bring to simmering point, ensuring all the sugar has dissolved, then stir in the citric acid, and remove immediately from the heat. Bottle when cold.
Note the higher proportion of sugar compared to the syrup recipe, required to retain sweetness after dilution. The citric acid is optional but will extend the shelf-life of the cordial substantially, and adds ‘zing’ to the result. Many recipes will still incorporate Cinnamon, Ginger, Allspice or in particular Star Anise to potentiate the therapeutic (immune-enhancing) properties of Elderberries. If you would like to turn this into a genuine cordial in the traditional sense, use a strong infusion of fresh Borage instead of water as your starting point, although it’s more common to do this in the company of Elderflowers, which are also popular in cordial form.
You’ll find all sorts of recipes for robs, usually incorporating a proportion of sugar or honey, sometimes a little brandy, and the usual spices to ‘spice it up’. The important principle is that most or all of the sugar content is derived from the natural sugars (mainly fructose) in the fruit itself, rendered sufficiently concentrated by evaporation. Purists will appreciate the opportunity presented to add no sucrose whatsoever, as will diabetics.
The method is simple. Take a good quantity of elderberries on the stem (no need to separate). Press and filter to yield pure Elderberry juice. Spices can be incorporated using the same method as detailed under ‘Elderberry Syrup’. Simmer very gently, lowering the heat and stirring constantly towards the end to avoid burning, until a thick syrupy constituency has been achieved. Bottle when cold. Robs can be taken neat like a syrup, but are usually diluted in boiling water as a hot drink.
It’s also possible to evaporate off the water content completely over very low heat, (perhaps in an oven?), deriving a semi-solid result that can be cut into thin, flexible pieces. This is Elderberry Leather.
COLD SYRUPS (from fresh herbs)
A technique with impressive results is to use the water content of the fresh plant itself as the aqueous fraction of the syrup; as a cold preparation, this will have benefits of efficiency, potency and energy comparable to specific tinctures.
The method lends itself particularly to flowers used as relaxing expectorants, e.g., Coltsfoot flowers, Tussilago farfara, Mullein flowers, Verbascum Thapsus, Marshmallow flowers, Althaea officinalis, and Hollyhock petals, Althaea Rosea. (Althaea rosea is closely related to Marshmallow, but the huge fleshy petals are relatively easy to gather and produce a result of equal quality, and a most agreeable flavour. The ‘black’- flowered variety, A. rosea var. nigra, is superior, producing a spectacular claret-coloured result).
The flowers are gathered and weighed, are inter-layered in a glass jar with twice their weight of sugar, covered, and placed on a sunny windowsill until the sugar is dissolved. There is no reason why the flowers should not be gathered throughout their season, and new layers added every day or so. With experience, the ingredients need not be weighed if one can be sure of a small surplus of sugar, as any excess will fail to dissolve and will be discarded when the syrup is finally pressed and filtered.
The method can also be used for leafy herbs, fruits, – or even roots provided they have a high water content and can first be reduced to a fine mulch. Good results have been achieved with Ground Ivy, Elderberries, Garlic, Elecampane root and Horseradish.
Mels are made from honey, which is preferred by many to syrup as a more ‘natural’ substance. It’s a mixture of fructose with some glucose & sucrose, and traces of wax, pollen, and other odds & ends. Good quality honey has some antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is a superior demulcent to syrup; other claims abound, which will depend in part on the predominant pollen gathered by the hive. One special variety, Manuka honey from New Zealand, has extraordinary anti-inflammatory and healing properties, both internally & externally.
As honey already has a high water content, it cannot be diluted significantly before fermentation becomes a risk. It is sufficient simply to simmer the herb of choice very gently in the honey, cool and strain; nothing else need be added. If fresh herbs are employed, you might nonetheless add a little preservative (e.g. lemon juice, alcohol or essential oils) to ensure preservation.
Good quality honey is very expensive these days, so it’s seldom used as a bulk medium any more, but it does occur in small proportions in many ‘kitchen pharmacy’ recipes as a sweetening agent in preference to sugar.
One should not forget the reliable old standby of Honey & Lemon as a piping hot drink, taken at the onset of colds. Use an infusion of Thyme as the starting point if a cough is also present.
Oxymels combine honey with vinegar (dilute acetic acid). This is usually applied to pulmonary conditions where the demulcence of honey is augmented by the expectorant & disinfectant properties of vinegar, the latter also being a good solvent of alkaloidal remedies such as Ipecacuanha or Squills. A workable formula is 1 part wine vinegar or cider vinegar to 3 parts honey: the herb(s) are macerated in the vinegar and pressed in the same fashion as a tincture, the result being mixed cold with the honey, or indeed with a stock Mel. More formulae can be found in old Pharmacopoeias, but beware that they usually call for acetic acid, 33% acid, whilst culinary vinegars are nearer 5%, so some adjustment will need to be made.
In modern times the only medicinal oxymel in common use is Lobelia, Lobelia inflata. Note that this is a Schedule III (restricted) herb. Macerate 250g of finely chopped fresh or dried Lobelia inflata in 1 litre of Cider vinegar for 10-14 days. Press and filter. Adjust the volume to 1 litre using extra cider vinegar if necessary. Place in a measuring jug and stir in sufficient clarified honey (approx 1.2kg) to yield 2 litres of oxymel. This can be dosed according to the same recommendations and restrictions as the 1:8 tincture. Whilst working, do consider wearing gloves, and work in good ventilation – inhaling the fumes alone can prove emetic!
Finally, one cannot resist drawing attention to the folk remedy of mixing Honey & Cider vinegar in equal parts, taken by the teaspoon for osteoarthritis.
An elixir combines syrup with significant proportions of alcoholic extracts, and in most cases will also contain aromatic constituents. The main purpose of this is to make unpleasant remedies more palatable. In orthodox pharmacy elixirs were once in great favour for the administration of alkaloidal and otherwise offensive tasting drugs. In herbal medicine, some elixirs are still manufactured as mediums for laxatives, where aromatic constituents double as antispasmodics. Many practitioners will still find themselves adding tinctures and/or essential oils to a stock syrup, thus effectively creating an elixir.
A linctus is a form of elixir designed for treatment of respiratory complaints. A key requirement for a linctus is that it should be mucilaginous or otherwise viscid, so that it will temporarily coat the mucosa, for the benefit of the throat and, by reflex, the lungs. A linctus may also contain a variety of expectorant, mucolytic, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents. There is often little meaningful distinction between linctuses, cough mixtures & cough syrups. Whilst such preparations abound in commerce, practitioners are unlikely to produce a large variety of such medicines in-house, although the ad hoc addition of tinctures and/or essential oils to a syrup can easily create a linctus.
It’s nonetheless useful to have a stock linctus for general use. The formula given below is tried and tested for seasonal infective coughs. You can incorporate herbs or essential oils according to your own choice, having familiarised yourself with the basic proportions and method.
|Hb||Tussilago farfara, Thymus vulgaris||aa||60||g|
|Rad||Glycyrrhiza glabra, chipped||60||g|
|Sugar, dark brown||2.0||kilos|
Place the dried herbs in the water, bring to the boil, and simmer for 30 minutes. As soon as cool enough to handle, press and filter. Return to the pan and add the sugar and the Marshmallow syrup (see formula under ‘Syrups’). Heat to simmering point whilst stirring continuously, and remove from the heat as soon as the sugar has completely dissolved. When fully cooled, stir in the essential oils vigorously, add further cold water to yield 5 litres, and bottle.
You will note that this is a surprisingly low-sugar formulation, adequate preservation relying on the addition of essential oils. A syrup of this type can hold up to 3.5ml of essential oils per litre in suspension.
Whilst impossible to categorize, variations on this recipe are used throughout professional practice, as one of the very best responses to iron deficiency anaemias, and as a general tonic in its own right.
|Wild ‘Hunza’ apricots||1||kg|
|Sugar, dark brown||1||kg|
|Red wine, robust||3||litres|
|Trs||Angelica rad, Urtica herba||aa||200||ml|
|Trs||Gentiana, Serenoa, Zingiber||aa||25||ml|
|Ascorbic acid BP||50||g|
|*Ferrous sulphate BP||5||g|
Place the apricots in a (preferably) cast iron pan, cover with water and simmer on low heat for 4 hours, adding further water as necessary. Add the sugar and simmer gently for a further 4 – 6 hours, stirring occasionally, until very mushy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Transfer to a bucket and add the red wine; stand for at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally. Press and filter, or simply strain through a ‘jelly bag’. Stir in tinctures & ascorbic acid. Make up volume to 5 litres with cold water.
Notes on ingredients: if you can’t track down wild apricots, unsulphured organic apricots will do, but you will probably want to add the otherwise unnecessary *ferrous sulphate, (you can buy this at any Chemist’s in tablet form; crush them individually to powder between two teaspoons). Use a muscovado or unrefined cane sugar, which will also contain some iron. It’s probably cheapest to buy a 3L box of red wine – a full-bodied Spanish or New World red wine will have a good iron content – make sure it contains at least 12.5% alcohol. If you don’t want to use ascorbic acid, substitute the juice of 5 lemons.