This hawthorn berry & rosebud herbal syrup contains ingredients that are often used in traditional Chinese medicine. I wanted to create a herbal syrup that would be quite versatile — something that would suit a busy contemporary Singaporean household with young children (meaning pancakes for breakfast, chicken rice for lunch), and still enable me to sneak some wellness and care into my family’s diet. This particular combination of dried Chinese herbs — hawthorn berry, liquorice root and schisandra fruit — is ideal for hot weather as they nourish yin and improve appetites.
Flavour was key for me in trying to combine the benefits of traditional Chinese medicine with deliciousness and usefulness as well as indulgence. This herbal syrup draws its sweetness from liquorice root (this is subtle and complex even though it’s considered to be sweeter than sugar!), Chinese dates (which are rich in nutrients) and hawthorn berries (some of that nostalgic flavour from the haw flake candy we ate growing up here in Singapore). Schisandra fruit give it appealing tartness and a hint of bitterness, I suspect, along with the liquorice (think Negroni).
I feel that rosebuds give the mixture balance. Steeped rather than boiled, the mildly floral qualities the dried buds contribute round out the sweetness and acidity in this herbal syrup. But you can omit them if you don’t like this flavour.
On the subject of sugar, take my measurements to be mere guidelines. The unsweetened brew has its own natural herbal sweetness contrasted with some fruit acidity and a touch of bitterness. So I would adjust the quantity of sugar based upon your or your family’s palate as well as the intended use for this herbal syrup. I’ve sweetened it to match my husband’s preference.
The most obvious use for this hawthorn berry & rosebud herbal syrup as the base for a cold, thirst quenching drink, but it can be incorporated into your food and drink in so many other ways. When I’ve over indulged, I find that a small shot of this herbal syrup combined with hot water and freshly squeezed lemon juice helps my digestion and feels so comforting to sip on.
Choosing a pot
It’s important that you use a pot that’s made of material that won’t create a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with the herbs. I generally use enamel because mine works on induction. However, I was concerned that these herbs might stain my white enamel pot. So, in this instance I chose a stainless steel-lined copper pot. Ceramic and glass are other possible options. Be mindful of porous materials as these absorb and retain flavours.
I’ve always aspired to incorporate more traditional Chinese medicine herbs into my daily cooking because I believe in preventative treatments. However, it was always challenging to develop recipes my family would enjoy as I didn’t really understand what I could and couldn’t do with the herbs and struggled to find reliable information published in English. So, I tended to follow traditional Chinese recipes. Or I’d use pre-packaged herbs to make classic double-boiled soups. These had limited relevance to the way my family eats on a daily basis.
I was thrilled to discover that 140-year-old Eu Yan Sang has recently published a slim tome that explains, with beautiful illustrations, the uses of key TCM herbs in English. This title has guided the way I developed my recipe for hawthorn & rosebud herbal syrup.
Hawthorn berry is good for enhancing digestion and relieving bloatedness. On its own, it can be a little harsh, so combining it with liquorice, honey or sugar helps to harmonise its effect.
Liquorice root is the most widely used herb in traditional Chinese medicine. It is said to be 30-50 times sweeter than sugar and helps with clearing phlegm and heat. Chinese dates nourish the blood and is good for your circulation. I personally like using large dried dates.
Schisandra fruit are said to boast five flavours — sweet, tart, bitter, salty and pungent. They are rich in antioxidants and are considered to benefit all five Yin organs: liver, lung, heart, kidneys and spleen.
20g dried hawthorn berry (山楂) slices
9g (about 4-5 slices) dried liquorice root (甘草)
6g (about 2tsp) dried schisandra fruit (五味子)
20g (about 3) large Chinese dates (大枣)
1litre water (ideally filtered)
20g dried culinary grade rosebuds (optional)
200-250g rock sugar (to taste)
Rinse and drain the Chinese dates. Cut into quarters and remove pits.
Combine the hawthorn berries, liquorice root and schisandra fruit. Rinse and drain.
Place the dates, hawthorn berries, liquorice root and schisandra fruit in a saucepan with 1 litre of water. Set aside to soak for at least 30 minutes.
Bring mixture to a rolling boil, then lower to a vigorous simmer. Partially cover the pot with a lid and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half (about 45 minutes).
Remove from the heat, add rosebuds and stir briefly. Cover the saucepan completely and set aside to steep for at least 20 minutes. (Skip this step of not using rosebuds.)
Next, strain the liquid. Return it to the saucepan with the sugar. Reheat the liquid to dissolve the sugar. This should yield about 450ml of syrup. If you prefer a thicker mixture, you may opt to bring the liquid back up to a vigorous simmer for another 30 minutes.