Homemade Himalayan Balsam Syrup

    reading time: 12 min

If you've ever wanted to impress someone with a homemade gift, but don't have the skills to make a wow-worthy cake or don't have the time or means to brew up a meadowsweet cordial, then this recipe is for you! This syrup is incredibly easy to make and looks ridiculously good. Do you see this vibrant hot pink / magenta colour?! It's 100 % natural – no colouring added!

The secret to this gorgeous and equally delicious syrup is a weed by the name of Himalayan Balsam – as well as not boiling the flowers for too long (see recipe below). All you need for this recipe is water, sugar, Himalayan Balsam flowers, and a bit of citric acid. I found this recipe in a German wild herb recipe book by the German Peter Becker and was excited to finally have found a way to use this pink flower that grows in our neighbourhood like crazy. So if you do speak German, I would strongly suggest you purchase his book Die Wildkräuter-Werkstatt ("The Wild Herb Workshop") which features many wild foods and "weeds" like dandelion, ground elder, Japanese knotweed etc.

Considered an invasive, destructive weed by most people, Himalayan Balsam is just waiting to be discovered! It can be found in large quantities almost everywhere, and collecting it is worthwhile. A positive side effect is that the more the flowers and seeds are used, the more its spread is contained. I plead for inclusion instead of deportation! Using what is there to its full potential instead of fighting it. If you agree, why don't you join in and try your hand at this terrific syrup?

Where and How to Harvest Himalayan Balsam 

Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is an annually growing plant that is native to the Himalayan mountings that also goes by the names of copper tops (due to the petal's similarity to a policeman's helmet), kiss-me-on-the-mountain, and ornamental jewelweed. Here in the Northern Hemisphere it is a so-called neophyte, i. e. non-native, highly invasive weed that was first introduced to Britain in 1839 and has spread rapidly ever since. It is considered an invasive pest, like Japanese knotweed and Giant hogweed, and in many areas in Europe it is therefore forbidden to import, cultivate, transport, commercialize, plant or intentionally release Himalayan Balsam into the environment, and some local wildlife trusts even organize Balsam bashing events to help control the plant by uprooting or cutting it.

Looking at the Himalayan Balsam plant without prejudice, you will not fail to recognize its beauty. The nectar-rich flowers in shades of pale pink, almost white, to magenta and purple that grow on fragile looking stems attract numerous bumblebees, bees, wasps, and other insects, filling the gap between the end of the summer main crop and the autumnal ivy flower and helping the bees going into winter. The sugar content in the sticky nectar is about 50 percent, and with the Himalayan Balsam producing almost 0.5 mg of nectar per hour, this is 40 times more of the sweet sap than most other flowering plants produce. 
Originally native to the Himalayan region of eastern India, the plant can be found today in large colonies throughout Europe and North America, in nutrient-rich riparian woodland, floodplains, wet meadows and along forest edges. It prefers a semi-shady location with as much water as possible, and is usually found in the company of meadowsweet, stinging nettles, and catchweed. The plant can grow up to 2–3 meters with a soft green or red-tinged stem, and usually covers large areas.

The genus name Impatiens means "impatient" and refers to its method of aggressive seed dispersal: The spindle-shaped seed pods that form after flowering explode at the slightest touch when ripe, and scatter their seeds several meters in all directions (up to 4000 seeds per plant!).

The leaves are arranged along the stem either opposite or in bunches of three.
The leaf stalk is approximately 3 cm long, the leaf itself approx. 15 cm long with a red vein running up the middle, and a maximum of 2.5 mm wide. The leaf blade is sharply toothed and lanceolate.
When crushed, the leaves have a strong musty smell. There are many glands on the petiole and the leaf base that emit a very unique, intense fragrance that is particularly noticeable late in the evenings and on windless, warm days. Many find it unpleasant or even nauseating, but to me it smells like a summer night.

The Himalayan Balsam really starts growing after the summer solstice in the late June, with the flowers beginning to form in mid-summer to late summer. They are about 2 – 4 cm long, prominent, lipped and hooded, and somewhat reminiscent of orchid flowers. They bloom between July and October. The plant dies at the first frost.

Possible lookalikes include
foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium or Epilobium angustifolium) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum) as well as various members of the Impatiens family, such as the orange balsam (Impatiens capensis; has red spotted orange flowers), the touch-me-not balsam (Impatiens noli-tangere; has tiny yellow flowers), and the small balsam (Impatiens parviflora; has tiny pale-yellow flowers).

Do not confuse Himalayan Balsam with foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) which is deadly toxic (!). It has a central stalk with bell-shaped purple flowers that grows 1–2 meters tall. Unlike the Himalayan Balsam flowers, foxglove flowers are arranged in an elongated cluster on a tall spike, and each flower is more tubular instead of bulbous, and heavily spotted on the inside surface.

Since fireweed
(Chamaenerion angustifolium) is also a tall, wild-growing plant with purplish-pink flowers that bloom from June to September and narrow lanceolate leaves, that is native throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere and can grow up to 1 meter or even 2.5 meters in height, it is easy to confuse the two. Unlike the serrated leaves of the Himalayan Balsam, the fireweed leaves are smooth and with a white central vein on most leaves. The mostly unbranched stems are glabrous or only slightly hairy and dark purple to the tip. The most prominent difference however is the shape of the flowers: Unlike the slipper-shaped flowers of the Himalayan Balsam that grow in clusters, the flowers of the fireweed are arranged in a long, terminal, racemose inflorescence that blooms progressively from bottom to top, producing a gracefully tapered shape. The fireweed flowers themselves are slightly asymmetrical, with four magenta to pink petals and four narrower pink sepals behind. Each flower is perched at the end of a long cylindrical capsule bearing numerous seeds that have a tuft of silky hairs at the end. Similar to the Himalayan Balsam, fireweed is also edible: While the leaves can be used to make tea, the young shoots provide a tasty spring vegetable that is high in vitamins A and C, and the flowers can be turned into jelly and syrup, and are also a somewhat tart but very pretty decoration for salads and dishes. As closed buds they can be added to vegetable dishes, and can be pickled in vinegar and oil. You might see me forage fireweed at some point in the future ...

Like the Himalayan Balsam, the flower of the snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) resembles a gaping mouth, but while the snapdragon flowers look more like the face of a dragon that opens and closes its mouth when laterally squeezed, the Himalayan Balsam bears more resemblance with a cap or a trumpet dangling down from its little stem and shaped with a sharp bent spur at the back and a bulbous back end. The balsam flowers are arranged in loose clusters of
3 – 12 flowers per plant like hooks on fishing rods at the top of the plant, whereas the snapdragon flowers are arranged vertically in a tight cluster on a tall spike (similar to foxglove), in most cases 8 – 30 flowers per plant. Snapdragons thrive in full sun, although they will tolerate some light afternoon shade, and are native to rocky areas of Europe, the United States and North Africa.

Instead of demonising this beautiful – and useful! – plant, I suggest taking a closer look at it and containing it through sensible use (e. g. in the kitchen) rather than trampling it down. Integrate it instead of isolating it, use it instead of fighting it.

Himalayan Balsam is edible! The flowers as well as the green seed pods, the seeds, the young leaves and the shoots of the Himalayan Balsam plant are all edible and are traditionally used in curries in its native Himalayan region. However, the green parts of the plant (that can be harvested from late April until late June) are slightly poisonous and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and dizziness when consumed raw in larger quantities. When you harvest any young leaves or leaf tips in late spring or early summer, always cook or blanch them in boiling water several times, changing the boiling water in-between! They don't have much flavour, but are a wonderful addition to stir-fries, pickles or savoury puff pastries.

From July to October, the flowers can be turned into jam, jelly, ice cream, parfait, infused water, wine, gin, vinegar, and – of course – syrup. In small quantities the flowers can be eaten raw, for example in a salad or a smoothie. Once the flowers are cooked or pickled, you can consume them in larger quantities. Their petals have a pink/red colouring effect which makes it very attractive for cooking, but also for colouring lipsticks for example.

Lastly, the most delicious part of the Himalayan Balsam can be harvested in September, sometimes as early as August and into October. Both the white, immature seeds and the black, mature seeds are edible and tasty. Raw, their taste is reminiscent of walnuts, and they can be used to make marzipan! The riper the seeds, the nuttier. If you roast the seeds in a pan without oil for about a minute, they pop around like popcorn and it will give them a stronger, tangier flavour, similar to French fries. As a nutty base, the seeds are great for scattering over granola, salads, making pesto, smoothies, dips, pastries, casseroles, fritters or condiment pastes.

In India, Himalayan Balsam is also used as a medicinal plant, especially for the external treatment of skin diseases, mosquito bites, and nettle burns. The blossom are also said to help against athlete's foot when rubbed on externally or put between the toes. Himalayan Balsam is also known to have a calming effect as Bach Flower Nr. 18 (Impatiens), promoting qualities of patience, empathy and gentleness. It is also a component of the famous Bach Rescue Remedy that provides effective first aid in situations of stress, emotional strain or shock.

When foraging for Himalayan Balsam flowers, be careful not to trigger the seed dispersal mechanism – after all, it's not the best idea (and in some countries illegal) to further spread this invasive plant that is already overwhelming and displacing parts of the native flora.

That being said, we managed to collect a basket full of the Himalayan Balsam flowers and accidentally triggered the mechanism only once, so don't be put off collecting them.

As with any flowers, it's best to forage Himalayan Balsam flowers later in the morning on a dry sunny day. Don't pick them right after a rain shower as they will lose some of their aroma. Collect the flowers in a paper bag or basket. Be careful not to collect any bees! Sometimes they're nearly invisible deep inside the petals (case in point: the third picture in this blog post! can you spot the bee?!). Once you get home spread out the flowers outside, and place a cloth over them. Wait for 20 minutes so that any insects and spiders can get away.

The easiest way to collect the ripe seeds is to put a paper bag over the seed pods or and shake it a little or press lightly on them. The seeds will pop out due to the seed dispersal mechanism and fall into the bag. You will always get a few leaflets along with the seed pods that can easily be sieved out later with a kitchen sieve. You can store dried seeds in a screw-top jar until the next season.

General Foraging Guidelines:

  • You should be 100 % certain you are identifying the correct plant. If you do not know what it is, DO NOT eat it! Do not pick if you're in doubt!

  • Don't harvest from contaminated areas such as busy roadsides, near industrial facilities, where dogs pee, along the edges of agricultural fields, old landfill sites etc.

  • Be mindful & harvest sustainably. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply, and never more than 1/4 of a plant, ideally only about 5 %.

  • Leave the harvesting area litter-free.


Preparation time: 20 mins
Main ingredients: Himalayan balsam, sugar, citric acid
difficulty level: easy
makes: 1.5 litres (6 cups)
suitable for: vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, oil-free


100 g (4 oz) fresh Himalayan balsam flowers, preferably dark (about 5–6 handfuls of flowers; this is the equivalent of the content of the basket in the picture above!)
1 tsp citric acid
1 litre of filtered water
1.5 kg of xylitol or light sugar of choice (I've also seen a recipe that uses 800 g of sugar to 1 litre of water, so you can probably cut down on that)

a large saucepan with lid
a fine mesh sieve
a funnel
clean, sealable bottles *

* I re-used a bunch of old juice bottles that I sterilized with boiling water, dish soap and vinegar; another way to sterilize your bottles is to put them in an oven on low heat of 110 °C / 230 °F for around ten minutes – if it is too hot, they’ll crack!


In a large saucepan bring the water to a boil. Add Himalayan balsam flowers and citric acid, and allow to simmer for about 2 minutes while stirring. Strain the boiling hot liquid through a fine mesh sieve and squeeze the flowers with the back of a spoon to get all the liquid out. You will notice that the water has changed colour from being clear to a vibrant magenta pink. 
Pour the pink water back into the saucepan, add the sugar and bring back to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

Whilst still hot, fill the syrup into warm glass bottles that have been heat sterilised beforehand. (Adding the hot syrup to cold glass bottles may cause them to crack!)

Seal while hot. Label your bottles, noting the content and also the preparation date. Stored in a cool place, this syrup keeps for at least 3–4 months, up to 6 months.

This is great for drizzling over pancakes (recipe below), ice cream, pudding, or adding to homemade lemonades or spritzers.

Simple Vegan Pancakes For Two

Preparation time: 20 mins
Main ingredients: flour, sugar, non-dairy milk
difficulty level: easy
serves: 2
suitable for: vegan, lactose-free, wheat-free, nut-free, oil-free, yeast-free


1 cup (120 g) + 4 tbsp (45 g) spelt flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tbsp (45 g) raw cane sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup (160 ml) non-dairy milk
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
6 tbsp (180 g) unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla essence

Start by combining the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl: flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Stir, then set aside. To a separate bowl, add the wet ingredients: non-dairy milk, ACV, applesauce, and vanilla essence. Stir well.
Add the dry mixture to the wet, and whisk until smooth. Let batter rest for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, heat up a non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat.

Use an ice cream scoop or a measuring cup to pour about 1/8 – 1/4 cup of batter onto the pan. When the top begins to bubble and the edges are dry, flip the pancake and cook until browned on the other side. Repeat with remaining batter.

Once the pancakes are all nice and golden, serve warm on a plate and drizzle with a generous amount of Himalayan Balsam syrup.

For a healthier version,
check out my sugar-free and gluten-free pancake recipe (old but gold).