“Indian Brandee is a traditional herbal remedy for the relief of flatulence, colic and heartburn. It was dispensed by corner shops in the North of Industrial England until early 2010. Mildly alcoholic.”
Hands up if you remember taking Indian Brandee as a child?
This herbal syrup was a panacea for all manner of ailments in households across the North of England in the 1970’s. If a child ever felt poorly or under the weather, out would come the little bottle and spoon. A sure cure for crampy tummy aches, the pungent flavour of Indian brandee also served as enough of a deterrent for any insincere attempts to try and wangle a day off school.
After a long conversation with a fellow herbalist in which we reminisced about (and lamented) the demise of the humble herbal syrup, I decided to have a go at recreating this blast from the past. Although the passage of time has blurred my ability to accurately recall the taste of the remedy, I’m quite certain that children (and adults) today would probably find it repugnant, and is probably the reason why it is was eventually withdrawn from sale. With this in mind, the following recipe is an attempt at a more sophisticated and palatable version which can be used as a delicious base for a soothing herbal digestif.
DIY “Indian Brandee” recipe
After quite a bit of research (including attempts to contact the manufacturer,) I was unable to discover the full list of ingredients and method of preparation. However, I do know that the original formula was loosely based around the following ingredients:
Ginger is warming and relieves muscle spasms. It supports the liver and helps to prevent nausea.
Coriander and Cardamom are “carminative herbs” which are known for their digestive properties. Like ginger they’re warming in nature, helping to relieve bloating, wind and cramps.
Chilli acts as a stimulant, opening up the blood vessels and allowing the medicine to get to where it needs to go. Chillies support weak digestion and help the body break to down and assimilate food.
How to make a herbal syrup
You don’t need any fancy equipment to make your own powerful and effective botanical syrups. In fact, all that’s required are a few basic kitchen tools and a willingness to experiment with flavours. In a short space of time (and with very little investment,) you can quickly become an expert at creating your own herbal syrups, which can then be used as the base for mocktails, enhancing your baking creations, or to create store cupboard remedies for minor ailments like indigestion and sore throats. (Instructions for making a delicious elderberry elixir can be found in the further reading section at the end of this post.)
The basic method for making herbal syrups is really very simple – make a decoction (strong tea) with your chosen herbs, and then add either honey or sugar for flavour and preservation. The following recipe is a really easy way to get started making herbal syrups. It only requires a couple of ingredients that can easily be picked up from your local supermarket or health food shop, and is a great project to get children involved with learning about herbs. The result is a zingy syrup that can be used as the base for an adult hot toddy, drizzled over granola and yogurt, or taken right off the spoon to instantly soothe upset tummies.
If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, do keep an eye on the website for details of my next herbal elixir workshop. This immersive course explores the curious history and origins of some of the more unusual botanical drinks, and is designed to give you the confidence to experiment with herbs and spices to create your own exciting concoctions from flowers, berries, fruits and herbs.
To make your DIY “Indian brandee” you will need:
- 100g of finely chopped fresh ginger root
- 20g of fresh, chopped turmeric
- A few cardamom pods
- A quarter teaspoon of dried chilli flakes or one small freshly chopped chilli (how much you decide to add will depend on how hot you want the final preparation to be)
- A few slices of lemon or a tablespoon of dried lemon peel
- A jar of honey
- A pinch of citric acid. Although not essential, this will extend the shelf life of the finished product. If you prefer, a dash of brandy or rum can also be used as a preserving agent.
In a large pan, bring one litre of water to a rolling boil.
Finely chop all the ingredients to get the largest surface area possible before adding everything to the pan. Prepare a strong decoction by boiling on a high heat. Do not cover the pan as you want the water to evaporate until the mixture is reduced down to about 200 ml.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow the decoction to cool before straining through a double meshed strainer or cheesecloth that has previously been moistened and wrung out. This way you can be sure you’ve removed any particles of dust or dirt that might otherwise find their way into your syrup and spoil it.
Once all the bits have been removed, return the liquid to the pan and add the honey. Warm the mixture through (do not boil) until all the ingredients are nicely combined and you have a slightly viscous liquid.
Allow to cool, strain again and store in a sterilised, air tight glass bottle. Avoid using containers with metal lids as this can sometimes react with the syrup causing it to go off or ruin the delicate herbal flavours you’ve worked hard to achieve.
Kept in the fridge, the syrup will last up to about 6 weeks.
A couple of tips to bear in mind:
- Herbalists use chillies as “messenger” herbs. This is because their pungent nature opens up the blood vessels and allows the medicine to get into the system. If your aim is to make a medicine then feel free to add as much heat as you like. However, if your syrup is going to be used in as a base for a mocktail or used with small children, then go easy and add just enough to provide warmth (or omit altogether.)
- When chopping turmeric always wear gloves and cover your kitchen surfaces. It stains and is very difficult to get off!
- Once you’ve added your honey to the pan, keep a keen eye on the consistency. Reduce it too much and you’ll end up with will a jelly instead of a syrup.
- Good ingredients make for good medicine. If you want to end up with a superior creation, always use the best quality produce you can get your hands on.
- To avoid contamination, store your syrup in a small, clean bottle with an airtight lid and avoid exposing it to the air too often.
- Always label and date your creations so you can be sure to use them up before they are past their best.
How to take:
Dose: 1 teaspoon in a small amount of warm water (or straight off the spoon) after food. For a delicious and warming hot toddy, add a dash of whisky, brandy or rum and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
- The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook by James Green