So I’ve concocted a magical cordial in honour of the purifying and amatory goddesses of February. Yes, a cordial is basically just a sweet syrup but this cordial is a “Februa” and as such will cleanse your energy field not to mention protect your body and spirit. What is a Februa you ask? Well let’s begin by saying February takes its name from the Latin februa, meaning “the month of purification” or “the cleansing month.”
The sixth-century Roman writer Johannes Lydius, tells us February honoured the goddess Juno Februa or Februtis whose festival was held at the end of the old year on the 15th February (usually full moon) in the old lunar Roman calendar. Juno Februa was the goddess of passion or fever (febris) of love – and could be a possible connection to the later fertility and love rites of Valentine’s Day. She was understood “as an overseer and purifier of things” and her association with fevers is interesting considering fevers are part of the bodies purgative process.
According to the Roman writer Censorinus foods and other items can be purified and become “februa”. These are used to help cleanse away negative influences and old energies in preparation for the new year. Objects most commonly used were water, fire, wool, the skins of sacrificial animals, laurel, pine, salt and herbs. I’ve created this cordial as a “februa” and I think it makes a pretty apt choice.
In the past few centuries cordials evolved into sweetened beverages and liqueurs but they were used as medicinals for hundreds of years. Produced in apothecaries during the European Renaissance, cordials were used to revive the spirits and help the body purify itself of diseases. I’ve made these Februa Cordials with sage, rosemary, bay laurel and angelica, all delicious aromatics with purifying and protective properties. Filled with the power of sun, the element of fire, they work to restore vital forces, energy, vitality and immunity.
Known in old herbal lore as “Angel Food” angelica is a perfumey heady aromatic used to flavour food, drinks and confections. Placed above all other healing herbs for its purifying and protective properties, it was used to ward off plague, evil, illness, poison, and everything in between. Known as the “Holy Spirit Root” and the “Herb of the Angels”, angelica is associated with archangels Michael (angel of fire) and Gabriel, and has a history of use in exorcism and clearing space. One can even soothe grief by pouring angelica tea into bath water. Upper crust ladies in Britain made angelica cordials with honey and vinegar, and then the stalks were candied and eaten after dinner sweets to aid digestion.
Sage has also been long known for it’s purifying energies. It heals by bringing balance and cleanses the body and mind of impurities. The many medicinal, age-defying properties of this magical herb was why everyone from the Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, Romans to the Chinese, considered it a cure-all herb. And there was even an old medieval proverb suggesting that whoever had sage in their garden would never die! Today we know sage works to support digestion, cool inflammation, boost our immune system, and sharpen the mind.
Rosemary is also mentioned again and again throughout herbal history for its purification and healing powers. Magically it is associated with protection, love, lust, mental powers, exorcism, purification, healing, sleep, and youth. Rosemary was burned in sick chambers to purify air, and during the Plague it was carried and sniffed to protect against contamination. It’s a warming, stimulating herb that also sharpens cognitive skills, cleanses the blood and helps control the growth of many pathogenic bacteria without killing the good microflora (beneficial bacteria and yeast) in our body.
Bay leaf is also well renowned for its healing, protective and purifying properties. Also associated with psychic awareness, it was chewed by the Delphic Oracles to grant them the power of prophecy. It was considered useful as a fumigant during exorcism rites, for breaking curses and was carried to protect against any number of misfortunes. Bay laurel has verified bactericidal and fungicidal properties.
Creating this cordial was a simple process. Traditionally cordials were created by infusing herbs in alcohol for six weeks then addening the sweetening agents – but I didn’t want to wait, I wanted mine for February! So I went with the more modern method. I used approximately 3 cups of mixed herbs (with at least one cup of vividly coloured angelica stems for colour and flavour) and the juice and rinds of one lemon. I mixed this with 5 cups of water which I slowly simmered down down by half, then added about a cup of sugar. I further reduced this down to a thick syrupy liquid to which I added about a quarter cup of brandy. The angelica stems gave it a delightful amber pink colour – and I ate them after they cooled. (Angelica stems are popular candied and served as sweets, here is a recipe.)
I harvested all these herbs fresh. Angelica is already vigorously emerging in my local community garden, and the rest are practically evergreen here in Victoria. You can use dried herbs as well. Angelica is what gives this cordial its amazing floral flavour but if you can’t find any – just make it without – it will still be delicious and purifyingly potent! One warning, angelica and bay should be avoided if you are pregnant or lactating.
You can enjoy this cordial on Valentines Day for a different kind of ceremonial sweet treat. If you want a more austere purifying drink there is always an infused water. This would be cold infused, meaning place your herbs in a jug or large mason jar with cold water and let sit 24 hours. You could enjoy this more traditionally on Feb. 15th to cleanse yourself of too many chocolates!
Mix a few tablespoons of your Februa Cordial in sparkling water, hot tea or alone as a warming liqueur. And as you sip, muse on what you’d like to lose, cleanse and purge from the old the year. Happy February!
Angelica, Rosemary, Sage & Bay Laurel Cordial
- 3 cups of roughly chopped herbs
- 5 cups of water
- 1 cup & 1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
- 1/4 cup of brandy (or high alcoholic booze of choice)
- 1 Lemon. Use juice and rinds.
- Place herbs and lemon juice, rinds and water in a pot on the stove.
- Using medium high heat bring to simmer. Then let liquid reduce to about half its original amount. (About 2 & 1/2 cups)
- Add sugar. Keep simmering down until liquid becomes thick and syrupy. You should have just under 2 cups of liquid now.
- Remove from heat. Cool and then strain off plant material using a fine cloth like muslin or a paper coffee filter.( Don’t forget to hold on to your angelica stalks for nibbling later).
- Add brandy & stir.
- Pour into sterilized bottle or jars. You will have about 2 cups of cordial. Will keep a few months in the fridge. But remember you need for it February!