How to Turn Plants Into Tinctures, Like an Ancient Alchemist

Flower_Essences_1Jessica Leigh Hester of AtlasObscura offers a beginner’s guide to extracting flavors from herbs and flowers.

Hieronymus Brunschwig had a cure for whatever ailed you, and it all came down to plants. More specifically, it hinged on coaxing things from them.

In the early 1500s, the German surgeon-alchemist was sure that distillation could do some very heavy lifting when it came to human health. Brunschwig believed that distillation—one method of extracting flavors from flowers, herbs, and other plants, by boiling and condensing water—could calibrate the body, which was frustratingly prone to falling out of whack.

A tall order, but Brunschwig was not one to shy away from an encyclopedic effort. In his book one of the first printed distillation manuals, he arranged plants alphabetically, and noted their sneaky synonyms. He tallied the afflictions that various plants could defeat, and annotated which portions of flowers, stalks, and leaves were especially potent. He even indicated the months when each plant species were at their most formidable.

“Water of lekes,” distilled from roots in June, may be a balm “after the byrth of a chylde,” he wrote. “Water of lettys,” swallowed at “mornynge and nyght,” could comfort the “lyver.” The book promises drinkable salves for nearly any malady from head to toe, however ineffable. You could distill a remedy for headaches, marital discord, or bad dreams. You might chug some water of dill, or dab a bit on your temples.

There’s a long history here. Ancient Arabic alchemists made tinctures by macerating flowers and herbs, accenting them with spices, and setting them to boil and condense in glass vials over wood fires. By the Middle Ages, distillation was widely practiced by physicians, botanists, and apothecaries. The Victorians were enamored with tinctures, and during the Prohibition era in the United States, when alcohol was hard to come by, moonshiners applied the principles of distillation to make high-octane booze. (In the U.S., it’s still very much illegal to craft your own hard liquor at home, though Americans are permitted to buy and use distillation paraphernalia for other purposes.)

We asked Sarah Lohman, a historic gastronomist and the author of Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine, to lay out a recipe for making simple infusions at home.

1. Collect your materials

No need to overthink this—most any herb or flower will do. “Lavender, thyme, basil, you can create whatever you want to add into baked goods, dinner, ice cream, whatever you’re thinking,” Lohman says.

“I guess if you’re really foolish, you could infuse something that’s poison—but just don’t do that,” Lohman adds. Only use plants you recognize. If you’re scouting for wild edibles, use a guidebook or go with a seasoned pro. “If you stick to herbs you find in the grocery store, you should be in good shape,” Lohman adds. You’ll also need a container. Plastic, snap-top takeout containers work nicely for the initial infusion.

The process is pretty, and fairly hands-off.

2. Measure out the ingredients

Besides your plant material, you only need high-proof alcohol. The higher the proof, the faster the infusion happens, Lohman says—and if it’s really high, around 180-proof (meaning it’s 90 percent alcohol and 10 percent water), you’ll likely need to cut it with water in order to douse the burn. Vanilla extract, for instance, is 70-proof, so it’s 35 percent alcohol. “You make the infusion at a higher proof, and then you usually add water to bring down the proof to a comestible level,” Lohman says.

If you have a cup of Everclear and a cup of water, for instance, you’ve slashed the proof in half—from roughly 90 percent to 45 percent. For flavored spirits, such as things you’d add to cocktails, you’d want to hover around 20 or 25 percent. Keep on adding splashes of water until you get there.

3. Walk away

Place the plastic container in a sunny windowsill, and then leave it alone for at least 24 hours.

4. Sample and adjust

Since high-proof alcohol kills whatever microbes cross its path, you don’t have to worry about things getting funky the longer you leave your concoction stewing. “The worst-case scenario is that you make something you don’t like the taste of and you throw it out,” Lohman says. That said, you’ll want to test your infusion daily so that the flavor doesn’t get stronger than you like.

A little clove goes a long way, while something like basil or thyme will be more subtle. To get a punchy flavor, you’ll either need to begin with more plant material or let the infusion sit around longer.

This is where tasting is crucial. A delicate flavor, such as wheatgrass, might take a few weeks to develop, while a more-aggressive lavender comes through in just two or three days—anything beyond that might be overbearing. On the other hand, if the flavor is too toothless, you can keep adding more of the ingredients—one vanilla pod here, a clove there. “It’s a little bit of trial and error,” Lohman says.

As you experiment, keep a log of the tweaks you make. This makes the whole thing replicable, if things go well—and if they don’t, you know what to change in the next go-around.

5. Decant it

Once you’ve arrived at the flavor you want, you’ll need to fish out or strain the plant material so that the flavor doesn’t keep evolving.

After that, you might want to pour it into a pretty glass jar. (There are lots of apothecary-aesthetic shops online.

The finished product makes a creative, inexpensive gift. “At this point, you’ve bought a bottle of vodka, plucked some stuff from the garden, and that’s it,” Lohman says. “It’s a very low-risk at-home hobby.” Not to mention a delicious way to tap into an ancient practice, with a modern twist.


Happy Winter Solstice 2017

Solar prominencesThe Winter Solstice for 2017 occurs on December 21st which is the shortest day of the year. The Solstices (occurring in both December for the shortest day and June for the longest day) is wrapped up in tradition and ritual. It been celebrated by pagans for thousands of years, and many of the traditions now associated with Christmas had their roots in winter solstice celebrations - including the Christmas tree and yule logs.

The Druids - the priests of the ancient Celts - used evergreen trees , holly and mistletoe as symbols of everlasting life during winter solstice rituals. Cutting them down and putting them in their homes would have been too destructive to nature. But when Saint Boniface, also known as Winfrith of Crediton, found a group of pagans worshipping an oak tree in 8th Century Germany, he cut the tree down. The rituals soon became part of Christmas.

According to the Farmer's Almanac, the winter solstice is the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year. In the Northern Hemisphere, it always occurs around December 21 or 22. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the winter solstice occurs around June 20 or 21.) It is also considered the first day of Winter.

In 2017, the Winter Solstice arrives at:

  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm UTC
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 11:28 am EST
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 10:28 am CST
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 9:28 am MST
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 8:28 am PST
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 7:28 am AKST
  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 6:28 am HAST

 

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice


Unusual Uses for Olive Oil

Olive oilWho would have thought that Olive Oil was so useful and versatile beyond cooking and salad dressing? But it is. According to Curbly, here are some other great uses for Olive Oil:

1.Shave. Olive oil can provide a safe and natural lubricant for a close shave. Rub in an extra teaspoon after washing your body or face once finished.

2. Wood Furniture Polish. Wipe with a teaspoon of olive oil and a soft rag. Add a bit of vinegar of citrus juice to bulk up the cleaning power, and add a fresh scent.

3. Fingernails. Use a bit of olive oil to moisturize cuticles, or mix oil and water and soak your hands before a manicure.

4. Lubricate Measuring Cups and Spoons. Rub or spray olive oil on your measuring tools for easy clean-up of sticky substances like honey, grain mustards, and sugar syrups,

7. Care for your kitty. Add a teaspoon of olive oil to your cat’s food to help prevent hairballs, and provide a shiny coat.

8.  DIY Lip balm. Mix olive oil and melted beeswax in a 1:1 ratio, with an essential oil for fragrance, and say goodbye to dry and chapped lips.

9. Stop Snoring. Take a sip of olive oil before heading to bed. It might lubricate your throat muscles, and stop yourself, or your partner, from snoring.

10. Shine stainless steel and brass. Rub a bit of olive oil on a clean rag to prevent streaks, corrosion, and tarnish.

11. Exfoliate your face and hands. Rub your skin with olive oil, then scrub with sugar or coarse salt, and rinse.

12. As you bathe. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to your running bath water. You’ll be amazed when you towel off.

13. Remove makeup. Dab a bit under your eyes, on your cheeks and forehead, then wipe with a damp cloth.

14. Cure an earache. Very carefully, use a cotton swab to apply olive oil to the outside ear cavity to help with earaches and excess wax.

15. Remove paint from your skin. Rub on olive oil onto messy hand and arms (or faces) and allow the oil to soak into the skin for five minutes, then rinse with soap and water.

16. Treat lice. Apply olive oil to your youngster’s hair, and leave on for at least 40 minutes. Shampoo twice, then apply a preventative.

17. Stop a throat tickle. Take a sip of olive oil to stop the itchy flicker that is making you cough.

18. Fix a squeaky door. Use a rag or cotton swab to apply olive oil to the top of a problematic hinge in your home or automobile. 

19. Shoe polish. Rub down your shoes with just a spray of olive oil to maintain their shine.

20. Personal Lubricant. It works…

21. Soften your skin. Rub olive oil daily on notoriously dry areas, such as your feet or elbows, especially after a shower, shaving, or waxing.

22. Easy clean up of garden tools. Spritz some olive oil on your tools to cut down on dirt buildup. Read more here!

23. Condition leather. Rub olive oil into worn leather, such as a baseball glove, and let set for 30 minutes, then wipe away any excess.

24. As a hair tonic. Comb some olive oil through your hair for the vintage look of pomade without the build-up, or add a bit to wet hair for grungy, but clean, look.

25. Cure diaper rash. Gently wipe on olive oil to your baby’s bottom to help with the irritation of diaper rash.

 

 


Would You Eat an Ant to Fight Fatigue and Stress? 11 Adaptogens That Hollywood Loves

Hollywood is trend conscious and now the trend is toward Adaptogens. The Hollywood Reporter reveals some of the most popular adaptogens of the stars:

The wild, weird and (some say) wonderful ingredients at the center of the entertainment industry's latest supplement craze.

Ask the internet, and adaptogens are sprinklings of "pretentious hippie" woo-woo that caused L.A. juice entrepreneur Amanda Chantal Bacon to be excoriated while promoting her Moon Juice Sex Dust. But the National Institutes of Health has found in trials that the supplements made of medicinal plants, herbs and mushrooms "exert an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental work capacity" when stressed. Eleven adaptogens and supplements currently popular in Hollywood:

CHAGA Pretty Little Liars' Shay Mitchell orders the off-menu Blue smoothie (which tastes like cereal milk; $12) loaded with this immune-boosting mushroom at Lifehouse Tonics. "With supershroom adaptogens, we see improvements in energy, focus, creativity and sleep," says co-founder Fraser Thompson.

DRIED WHITE MULBERRIES Gisele Bundchen snacks on these purportedly longevity-boosting berries ($18; SunPotion.com).

REISHI Emma Stone's and Amy Schumer's facialist Georgia Louise says some of her clients are obsessed with Sun Potion's individual adaptogen powders, which can be mixed into water, juice, tea or smoothies. Katie Holmes, Laird Hamilton and Ben Harper are devotees of the offerings, including the reishi mushroom, called the "queen healer" for its reported liver-regenerating properties ($50).

1. Chaga 2. Dried white mulberries 3. Reishi 4. Moringa 5. Schisandra 6. Rhodiola 7. Mucuna puriens 8. Pine pollen 9. Siberian ginseng 10. Polyrhachis ant 11. Ashwagandha
1. Chaga 2. Dried white mulberries 3. Reishi 4. Moringa 5. Schisandra 6. Rhodiola 7. Mucuna puriens 8. Pine pollen 9. Siberian ginseng 10. Polyrhachis ant 11. Ashwagandha

MORINGA AND MUCUNA PURIENS Sun Potions' "miracle leaf" moringa fights aging free radicals ($20), while mucuna puriens has mood-enhancing qualities ($37).

PINE POLLEN AND POLYRHACHIS ANT Brownstone Productions' Renate Radford claims that with a bit of Sun Potion's Pine Pollen ($55), "you don't feel a buzz; you're just alert and awake." The wild-harvested polyrhachis ant is used by Chinese healers to boost musculoskeletal and digestive systems ($55).

SCHISANDRA, RHODIOLA AND SIBERIAN GINSENG Torii Labs' anti-anxiety Awake tonic contains stress-reducing Siberian ginseng, energizing schisandra berry and anti-anxiety rhodiola ($45 for a pack of six; ToriiLabs.com).

ASHWAGANDHA This anti-aging adaptogen that, like schisandra, is said to inhibit enzymes that break down collagen, is part of Raw Complexion's Skin Balance No. 2. Yolanda Hadid Foster and Ireland Baldwin mix it into drinks for a beauty boost ($35; Raw-Complexions.com.au).


Purifying Plants for Your Home

PlantsNatural Society believes that there are certain plants that can help clean the air in your home. Author Elizabeth Renter writes:

Pollution isn’t only a concern when you’re outdoors—it’s a concern in your home as well. From the carpet on the floor to the cleaning products you might use, there are numerous contaminants that could be infiltrating your domicile. Ideally you would replace these toxic substances with less toxic counterparts, but that isn’t always practical. Fortunately, research has shown certain houseplants to have air-purifying effects that can make it easier to breathe while beautifying your surroundings.

Researcher Kamal Meattle is an environmental advocate and air quality innovator in his native India. There, he advocates for “massive banks of plants instead of massive banks of HVAC equipment” for cleaning the air. He and others interested in natural air-cleaning methods have identified several plants that are great for removing toxins, including carcinogens from the air.

Meattle calls Areca Palm the “living room plant” because it is a daytime “oxygen factory”, according to MindBodyGreen. He recommends having four of these plants in the home per resident.

He recommends Mother-in-Law’s Tongue as the “bedroom plant” as it is a nighttime oxygen maker. Making your room resemble a tropical forest, he recommends having six to eight waist-high plants per person.

Finally, Meattle recommends Money Plants as “the specialist plant” which is able to filter formaldehyde and several other volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the air.

A NASA study from several years ago also identified houseplants that have air-purifying effects in the home. That agency, which should know a thing or two about having quality, breathable air, recommends:

  • Devil’s ivy
  • Mother-in-law’s tongue
  • Peace lilies
  • Ficus
  • Snake plants
  • Gerbera daisies

The NASA research reveals:

“In this study the leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms of plants have been evaluated as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants. Additionally, a novel approach of using plants systems for removing high concentrations of indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, organic solvents, and possibly radon has been designed from this work.”

Additional houseplants that are relatively easy to grow and can help filter the air include: the purple waffle plant, English ivy, variegated wax plant, asparagus fern, spider plant, red-edge dracaena, bamboo palm, and chrysanthemum.

 


Read more: http://naturalsociety.com/9-best-house-plants-cleaner-air/#ixzz3PUvdnELc
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