Oxymel: Mint and Honey Shrub (Vinegar Syrup)

         This sweet, tangy, and aromatic drink was thought to be not merely refreshing but also restorative and healthful! Long before shrubs became fashionable again, they used to be Ancient Greeks’ favorite refreshments, called oxymeli (vinegar-honey syrup).


From my 1994, out of print book Mediterranean Pantry, with photos by the brilliant Martin Brigdale


Sugar has replaced honey in most old recipes and people continue to enjoy similar drinks today, especially in the Muslim countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, where alcoholic beverages are prohibited.  

In an old Turkish cookbook compiled by Turabi Efendi in 1862, I found a vinegar-sugar syrup called oxymel that was scented with sweet marjoram. Starting from that basic recipe I experimented with different quantities of sugar and vinegar, using marjoram, mint, and rose geranium as flavorings.

My favorite was this mint-flavored oxymel, but you can try other herbs you like. I use sugar, but you may well substitute honey, choosing a somewhat plain, not too fragrant honey.

TO SERVE place 2-3 tablespoons oxymel in a glass, pour in very cold water and ice cubes, and decorate with a sprig of fresh mint.


Makes 1 cup


4 cups water


1 cup sugar


1 cup white distilled vinegar


15-20 sprigs fresh mint  


Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a nonreactive pan.

Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the vinegar. Continue simmering for

another 15 minutes. Add the mint to the pan, and as it starts to boil again, remove from the heat and let cool. Remove and discard the sprigs of mint, pass the syrup through a fine sieve, and store in a bottle in the refrigerator.


Mint Oxymel Syrup will keep for up to 6 months in the refrigerator.






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