If I could hit rewind and go back in time (wouldn’t that be amazing!?) … I’d make sure to pay a visit to my 13-year-old self, and teach her how to make this amazing herbal iron syrup (or “iron tonic”) to help manage my iron deficiency anemia!
(Of course I’d probably change lots of other things too if I could go back in time… but let’s not get into that.) 😉
I kid you not; herbal iron syrup has done wonders for me since I first learned about it back in 2018 via Ginger Webb, my primary clinical herbalism teacher.
After my own personal experiences with going on and off iron supplements for over a decade (and then transitioning to a diet which required more red meat than I would have liked, after going the holistic nutrition route to resolve digestive distress), since introducing this syrup into my life I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can maintain healthy iron levels while simultaneously minimizing my intake of red meat.
I hope you enjoy this DIY herbal iron syrup recipe as much as I do!
This is not medical advice! Everyone is different. Each person has their own unique response to herbs, especially if taking medication of any kind. Please always consult a doctor, and cosnider working with a clinical herbalist and/or functional dietitian nutritionist before starting a new herbal product including this one!
Words of caution
This is an iron-rich supplement and (based on personal and clinical experience) will likely increase iron levels in the blood if taken daily over time.
Too much iron is toxic to the liver. Overdosing on iron can be just as dangerous as being deficient in iron. I don’t recommend taking this iron syrup in addition to iron pills or iron infusions without medical instruction from your treatment team.
Make sure to get regular blood work done as ordered by your doctor to monitor your iron levels in case you need to adjust your dose of any iron supplement.
Multiple herbs in this herbal iron syrup recipe are known to reduce blood pressure and stimulate the liver and kidneys to detoxify more efficiently. Avoid taking this syrup or consult a doctor if you are on any kind of medications that alter the heart, blood pressure, liver, kidneys, fluid status, or urinary tract.
I’m a proud affiliate for two organic online apothecaries, Mountain Rose Herbs and Starwest Botanicals. If you make a through any of the product links in this article, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you! (I only endorse and promote products that I use personally.)
Why I love herbal iron syrup
As a clinical herbalist, there are a few very specific reasons I prefer making and taking herbal iron syrup for anemia (instead of iron pills). I promise it’s not just because of the yummy taste!
It’s relatively safe, easy, and inexpensive to make.
You don’t need to be a “green witch” or a healer to make your own herbal iron syrup!
I craft this herbal iron syrup using just a handful of well-known iron-rich, blood-building herbs and a few other simple ingredients.
It’s plant-based with a low carbon footprint.
Homemade herbal iron syrup is a wonderful plant-based way to boost iron intake for people who are vegan/vegetarian. To boot, it’s got an exponentially lower carbon footprint compared to consuming red meat or even taking synthetic iron supplements!
It’s 100% natural.
Herbs help to realign us with nature. (When people try to use pharmaceuticals and synthetic pills to cheat the system, I’ve observed it usually backfires.)
Also, unlike iron pills which aren’t usually regulated by the FDA, loose dried herbs are just one ingrediednt. And since I’m very careful about where I source my herbs, I know exactly where they come from!
Herbal iron syrup is timeless.
Herbal syrups and decoctions have been used by herbalists and healers of all kinds, all around the world, for hundreds (if not thousands) of years! Due to the abundance of iron-rich herbs that exist around the world, there are infinite possible variations of herbal iron syrup.
In this particular recipe, we start with a decoction of yellow dock, stinging nettle leaf, dandelion root, dandelion leaf, and hawthorn berries then we add a base of honey, molasses… and some *optional* alcohol, for preservation purposes.
Who says that something healthy and nourishing can’t also be delightful to our taste buds?! If you have a sweet tooth (like me) and you enjoy the combination of honey and molasses, we can both agree with Mary Poppins when she says “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”… 😉
If you ask me, there’s just something EXTRA special and fun about crafting your own plant medicine.
(You’ll find yourself feeling more and more like Claire Fraser from Outlander before you know it!)
Herbal iron is gentle on the gut.
Due to the nature of the herbs and ingredients chosen, traditional homemade herbal iron syrups like this one (in my experience) don’t appear to feed the “bad” bacteria in the gut the way iron supplements have been shown to do.
Also, herbal iron syrup doesn’t cause constipation which is the #1 challenge I’ve found most people struggle with while taking synthetic iron supplements.
The above factors are especially important for people with underlying issues related to leaky gut/dysbiosis! Kind of a big deal, if you ask me…
- The only exception would be for people who have a fructose intolerance and need to follow a low FODMAP diet; please know that the sugar in honey is 100% fructose and should be avoided since fructose may feed the “bad” bacteria in people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Let’s talk about the ingredients!
Making this iron syrup is a wonderful way to go back to our ‘roots’ (pun intended…sorry I couldn’t resist… keep reading). 😀
Yellow dock root (Rumex crispus)
This bitter, earthy, iron-rich, liver-moving “alterative” plant grows abundantly all over Central Texas where I’m currently residing, and I’ve also spotted it on walks while visiting my “homeland” in Massachusetts! Yellow dock also pretty well known to grow in many other parts of North America and the world.
Plant wisdom of yellow dock
What I love most about yellow dock is definitely NOT the taste… but rather the incredible plant wisdom it has to offer us.
- The roots of yellow dock are the part that we use most often in herbal medicine. The fresh roots are naturally a bright yellow color, which also happens to match the color of the solar plexus in energy medicine (as well as the color of bile produced by the liver!).
- Hundreds of years ago this bright yellow color served as a clue to indigenous healers in north America that yellow dock works its medicinal magic somehow on the liver. But there’s more…
- To take yellow dock’s plant wisdom to the next level, its curly leaves (which lead many herbalists to refer to yellow dock as “curly dock”) turn to a rusty reddish brown color over time. Think about it: what else turns to rust over time? You guessed it – IRON!
- In modern-day studies, yellow dock has been found to stimulate the liver to release ferritin (a storage form of iron) into the blood when iron levels are low. Okay, if that isn’t plant wisdom, I don’t know what is!
This is just one of many examples of why I love exploring the infinite wisdom, intelligence and gifts that are abundantly available to us in nature.
If we stop and really pay attention, many hundreds of plants are out there right now trying to get our attention so they can help us to heal. In fact, in studies of real alchemy, it’s well understood that we humans aren’t separate from plants or even the planets/astrology. But that’s a conversation for another time!!!
Stinging nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is a mineral powerhouse rich nourishing us not just with iron but also with a generous amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, vitamin K, vitamin C, and more! Due to the nutrient-rich properties of nettle, it makes a wonderful addition to any kind of herbal blood-building regimen.
Iron aside, there is an entire world of benefits that nettle has to offer us in the realm of energy, histamine response, healthier hair, brighter skin, and so much more.
(Drinking nettle leaf tea infusions is a regular habit of mine, personally!)
Dandelion root & dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale)
Yes, I’m referring to the same kinds of dandelions you may recall trying to get rid of in your backyard! The leaves and the roots of this prolific weed are loaded with plant-based non-heme iron, which is why dandelion is often traditionally used in different variations of herbal iron syrup.
Although you could probably access plenty of dandelion leaves and roots in your backyard, I advise you to think twice about harvesting any kind of herb that may have been exposed to weed killers or fumes from cars over the years.
Hawthorn berries (Crataegus monogyna)
In addition to being well known by herbalists as a timeless resource for supporting the heart, hawthorn berries are also a wonderful natural source of vitamin C!
If you got the chance to check out my article on the 8 pillars of iron deficiency anemia, you probably know that vitamin C helps to exponentially enhance iron absorption from plants.
Just a small amount of hawthorn berries will go a long way in this recipe, especially since vitamin C is considered a “water soluble” micronutrient. (That means it’s well extracted in water!)
Herbal Iron Syrup
- Measuring spoons
- Measuring cups
- Liquid measuring cup
- Medium stove-pot
- Wooden spoon for stirring
- Sieve for straining
- A clean dishtowel, nut milk bag, or ~1 foot of cheese cloth
- Medium to large mixing bowl
- Two 1-quart mason jars or 32 oz. worth of glass amber bottles for storage
- Medium to large funnel
- Sticker and pen for labeling
- 3 TBSP yellow dock root dried, C/S - not powdered
- 3 TBSP stinging nettle leaf dried, C/S - not powdered
- 1 TBSP dandelion root dried, C/S - not powdered
- 1 TBSP dandelion leaf dried, C/S - not powdered
- 1 TBSP hawthorn berries dried, C/S - not powdered
- 4 cups filtered water
- 3/4 cup raw honey
- 1/3 cup molasses unsulphured
- 3/4 cup brandy, bourbon or scotch of choice (optional but recommended for preservation purposes)
Part 1: Herbal Decoction
- Combine all herbs in a pot with the 4 cups of water. Stir with a wooden spoon so the herbs are completely submerged in water.
- Stir uncovered over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low as needed to prevent boiling.
- Continue to simmer until the liquid volume has been reduced by half, so about 2 cups of strong tea decoction will be left. (This takes about an hour on average.)Tip: You may want to mark a spot on the outside of the stove pot to see what it will look like when only 2 cups of decoction are left!
- Turn the stove top burner off. Let the decoction cool for 5-10 minutes (don't let get too cool in temperature or it will become difficult to dissolve the honey and molasses!).
- Using a sieve and clean dish towel(or nut milk bag or double layered cheese cloth), separate the liquid decoction from the herbs into a medium/large mixing bowl. Make sure to wring out the dish towel/nut milk bag/cheese cloth so you have as much of the "tea" decoction left as possible! The goal is to have 2 cups (liquid volume) of decoction.
- Discard/compost the remaining herbs (or better yet, reserve them for making spagyrics if by any chance you’re an experienced alchemist!).
Part 2: Herbal Syrup
- In the mixing bowl containing the two cups of tea decoction, add the honey and molasses, slowly stirring well for a few minutes until it's "uniform". Congrats – now you officially have herbal iron syrup!!! If no alcohol is added, this herbal iron syrup will last in the refrigerator in a sealed glass container for up to 2 weeks without going “bad”.
- Optional but recommended if possible: Add 3/4 cup of brandy, bourbon or scotch to the syrup and mix well. This allows the syrup to last in the fridge for about six months… much longer than two weeks!
- Using a kitchen funnel if needed, pour your herbal iron syrup into a glass container such as a mason jar, or better yet, glass amber bottles which help keep the potency stronger (since light and heat will generally degrade herbal potency).
- Make sure to label and date your product before sealing and storing in the fridge.
- For optimal results, do not take within two hours of calcium supplements or dairy products.
- In most cases it’s okay to take this herbal iron syrup on an empty stomach without any side effects (that’s what I do usually)… but first and foremost, listen to your body and your healthcare providers!
If you’re navigating iron deficiency anemia and you’d like to learn more from a holistic and functional nutrition perspective, make sure to check out the following articles:
- 8 Things You Should Know if You Have Iron-Deficiency Anemia
- 5 Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency
- Iron Supplements and Probiotics: What You Need to Know, According to a Gut Health Dietitian
Enjoy, and feel free to share this recipe with your holistic-minded family & friends!
XO – Jenna