Nicholas Culpeper‘s books and “herbals” have been considered classic and well-respected references for hundreds of years now. Packed with recipes, plant profiles and lore, Culpeper sets out the proper way to identify plants, diagnose and treat patients based on astrological rulerships, “The doctrine of signatures” and Galen’s philosophy of humors.
Not only do they give us a peek at medical and herbal practices of his times, but woven between the lines, one finds a wealth of information on traditional plant alchemy and medical astrology. Some of this more esoteric information is in the open and presented as a matter of fact, some lies a little deeper for those who have the eyes to see. His books are a “must read” for anyone who has an interest in plant alchemy, traditional European herbalism and medical astrology . This particular volume contains some of his most important writings. I will transfer the book to it’s own page in a few days so it can be easily referenced. Enjoy!
No matter how much experience and knowledge we have, how much care and control we exercise, we will still, on occasion, make critical mistakes.
We are quick to record and share our successes, but usually, slow to share our failures. However, if we adhere to a philosophy that there are no right or wrong, good or bad experiences, just living, learning and growing, then in theory, we shouldn’t hesitate to share our failures just as openly as our successes. Who knows, perhaps by reading this someone will avoid mistakes I have made.
So,,,, I burnt the last Wild Ginger essential oil distillation :-(. Well, I burnt the pot, whether any of the contaminated burnt vapours reached the already distilled essential oil, is left to be seen. After hours of carefully harvesting, drying, building a cool new distillation table, and setting up tools and equipment. I may have blown it…
As Lao Tsu says in the “I Ching“, “Foresight leads to folly”. Overconfidence can undermine us at any time. In fact, now it feels like it will do so, just out of spite. Just because. Some existential law of balance and counterbalance in the cosmos. Reminding us we will always have much more to learn, and we will always be less than perfect, because if we were perfect, there would be no point to us being here.
The old Alchemist’s caution, to practice humility, comes to mind.
Measuring exactly how much water I put in the pot still, was my clever gauge to know when the distillation was reaching its end. The height of distillate in my receiver would warn me when I was getting close to the end of the distillation, and time to take it off the heat. Great idea in concept…
Working blind, with an aluminum pot-still that is not transparent, it seemed a clever way to get around the bother of installing an external glass tube that would be a window to the height of the water in the still, (Like those institutional coffee percolators). My cleverness, and laziness betrayed me!
The dried Wild Ginger of course, absorbed a large amount of the water in the still, leaving me a third short in my estimate of when the still would run dry. Hindsight says “Duhhh”.
A sudden, puzzling decrease in distillate coming out of the condenser was my alarm, but by the time i caught on to why things had stopped flowing, the hot plate had burned the sludge, and the bottom of the pot. Even though I whipped the receiving flask away from the contaminated stream as quickly as I could, only time will tell if this batch is toast.
The generic odor of burnt seems attached to everything in the room, making it hard to tell if the oil, or my perception is contaminated. I think we all share a traumatic, deeply ingrained association in our racial or genetic memory of the odor of “burnt”. In fact, the phrase “Burned into our memory” could just as well refer to the penetrating permanence of the smell of burnt, rather than a metaphor of branding in our brain. Triggered from something as harmless as leaving the broccoli to steam too long, chiseling blackened rice from a pitted pot bottom, or the loss of possessions, countless nights sleep and nightmares after a house fire. “Burnt” never bodes well for us humans. Nothing good about it. I don’t mean that campfire wood smoke burnt fragrance, or “fireplace burnt” , both which trigger communal genetic memories of safety from predators, winter cold, and promises of roasted meats and marshmallows for our tummies, but “BURNT”, that triggers feelings of melancholy and loss.
Burnt, stays with you for a long, long time. It gets lodged in your nose, and no amount of scrubbing ever seems to rid one of the impression on your cells. Burnt is appropriately associated with hell and not heaven, ( as, of course essential oils usually are). I suppose if we accept that smells can uplift and inspire us, even heal us, then we must accept that they can also depress us, crush us emotionally and cause us discomfort, if not real harm. Yin and Yang. The perfect symmetry of the duality we live in.
Ahhhh. Wild Ginger essential oil
Asarum Canadense, or Wild Ginger essential oil is a “local exotic”, one of those well-kept secrets and a true treasure for perfumers and aromatherapists. It is just as versatile for herbalists, naturopaths , formulators of herbal products, culinary artists and confectioners. With a sweet creaminess, a feminine kind of spicy, a hint of the forest and woods, and a smooth, warm uplifting character full of subtle nuances. Wild Ginger essential oil is heart warming in the kind of way that makes your heart flutter when you get a whiff of it. It is one of those natural fragrances that is almost a complete perfume on its own. It falls into the category of beautiful. O.K., There should definitely be such a category. There is no official planetary rulership for it as yet, because it has never been a well-known or mainstream plant, but, I have no doubt, luscious earthy Venus, ruler of esthetics, art, beauty, sex and love harbours this fragrance exclusively and closely to her lovely bosom. Warming, stimulating, grounding, Wild Ginger plant or essential oil is soothing to sore throats and tummies, excellent for colds and chills, the flu and coughs, and soothing to tired achy muscles. Wild Ginger most definitely falls under Venus’s rule and her Taurus dominion.
Wild Ginger, as a perfume element, reaches up to blend seamlessly with top notes like Pettigrain and citrus, dances with other spice notes, and weaves itself smoothly into base notes like the Frankincense family, Spruce, Fir, Oak moss and other forest neighbors. It has a stimulating hint of spicy tropical ginger in its makeup, which makes it perfect for invigorating or sensuous massage oils. A well-rounded middle note, Wild Ginger is a complex fragrance that requires little else.
If you would like to distilled this oil yourself, or plan on doing so someday, please read the post”Wild Ginger Flavorful Fragrant Northern Treasure”, and give some quiet thought to making ethical harvesting, if not outright stewardship, part of your essential oil, or herbal practices.
Wild Ginger, when distilled, has some unique idiosyncrasies. It usually needs a little tweaking after distilling. Sometimes this means just leaving the cap or stopper off, and carefully airing it for a few days. So if you do feel disappointed when it first comes over in your receiver, worried, a little stressed that it does not smell right, or wonder if you made a mistake, relax, you are likely doing just fine.
Wild Ginger, Asarum Canadense freshly distilled essential oil needs a little time to catch its breath, or to breathe after distillation. Usually, it comes over with a bit of green sharpness, or sharp greenness that mellows with time and airing. In fact sometimes it comes over literally Emerald green, and only with the passage of time, transforms to its true and permanent colour of warm amber. Often the freshly distilled oil also has an unpleasant “sulfur” note to it, so don’t panic. If the Sulphurous note does not dissipate on its own after a few days of airing, shaking it regularly while it “Cohabitates” with distilled water seems to help. I have read that others have passed it through salt, to extract traces of water and/or unwanted notes. I will add a link if I can find that post again.
If there is indeed a burnt note to this batch of essential oil, it will only be after the process of airing and maturing the oil that I will know.
I feel a responsibility to the plant and feel bad I may have wasted such a fragrant, promising harvest. It is important that the relationships we have are mutually beneficial. Especially our relationship with Nature. I believe one of the secrets to producing truly refined and exceptional products, is understanding we are part of the process and equation, which means having an exceptional relationship with Nature, a philosophy and way of life based on giving, not on getting and honouring all life. This is one of the principals we abandoned when we severed chemistry from Alchemy a few hundred years ago. Though Nature is incredibly forgiving and accommodating with our one-sided, self-serving, inconsiderate relationship with her, our poor treatment of the planet, her systems and citizens, she is also impartial, and gives back to us exactly that which we give her, or invest in our relationship with her.
Our world culture is dominated by a model of taking, not giving. Not only is this our paradigm for relating to the planet, Nature and her resources, but this is how we treat each other, as individuals and as countries. We seek to nourish and enrich ourselves. First. What would happen if we all changed just this one little thing in our attitudes and approach to life? If instead, our first thought was how could we benefit others and the world around us? Where is there a need that I can fulfill? A lack to which I can offer my surplus? If we all did this, we would very quickly end world hunger, poverty and many other of our societal ills, on a global scale. Immediately, almost like magic. POOF. Pretty cool. All we need to do, to see this happen, is actively seek opportunities to give, and give only the best we can muster. To each other, to the planet and Nature around us. Everything else will take care of itself.
Back to work now. I have a few kilograms of Wild Ginger from fall 2012. If I don’t go out in the next couple of weeks to harvest fresh material, (With numb cold fingers), this will be my last distillation of Wild Ginger for the year. So, bottom line, regardless of experiences, mistakes, failures, life goes on. If there were no lows there could be no heights, no valleys if there were no mountains, there would be no shadows if there was no light, and yes, would there even be successes if there were no failures? Probably not. We might as well enjoy the ride.
If you are not drawn to make your own essential oil of Wild Ginger, but would like to make its acquaintance, find someone local who does so painstakingly well. Someone who really cares. If possible, someone with a small and personal operation, not a large national or international company. We can start changing the world by supporting people and companies that are healing the planet, treating it well, nurturing a healthy relationship with it, even if on a small scale. It all makes a difference. If the mega companies, with their mass production needs, receive no funds from us, they will cease to exist. We can “vote them off the island” if we so choose. Problem solved. It may be the only way to reclaim the power we have given to the huge corporations. We don’t want to just sit around and complain about the mess in the world, blame others while we perpetuate it, do we? We, through our daily little choices have created, and maintain all of this, and we are equally capable of changing it for the better. I don’t see anyone else around except us who can do this.
Now is the season, the possibilities of this years bounty are starting to bubble up in our minds. Wild wines, Jams, Jellies, confections and preserves, fritters and frittatas. Wild Mushrooms and May-apples. SPRING is here! Symbol of potential and new beginnings, new endeavors. so let’s get started.
Experience has shown me a good recipe is only part of the work, and often not as important to the result as HOW we go about making our wildcrafted delicacies. Since Dandelion Wine is one of the first Wild wines we can make, and in many North American areas, there is still time to make it, I will use Dandelion Wine as our example. These TIPS can be applied to all your planned productions from Mother Natures Bounty each season and year.
Dandelion Wine is a Spring tradition internationally. More than just a beverage. It can capture the essence of the season, and since it should sit for a few months to mature, you shouldn’t really drink it till Winter. Yule or Christmas or Chanukah time, capturing a taste and memory of springs light and warmth to savour during the dreary cold dark and dead of winter.
A pest and a blessing. Love them or hate them, either way we simply have to live with them. As persistent and adaptable as the proverbial cockroach, they are going nowhere, and we will never be rid of them, so might as well embrace them in all their bitter, medicinal, sweet and sunny glory.
There are hundreds of recipes for Home made Dandelion Wine. I can’t tell you which is the best. I am sure every year there are more being developed as more people explore making it, and with the speed and proficiency of internet communication there are probably more wonderful recipes being posted as I write this. Whatever recipe you use, these tips are guaranteed to take it to a whole new level!!
– Not all Dandelions are equal .When it comes to making Dandelion Wine. You can’t just chop down any Dandelion flower at any time of the year in any place willy nilly so to speak and expect to make a superb wine. One dandelion is not the same as all other dandelions! First of all, if we are going to use them for our dandelion wine, we need to wait for them. That’s right.
–If you want Wild Mushrooms, you hunt them.
–If you want Dandelions for wine, you wait for them. Seriously.
1-Wait patiently , keep your eye open for where and when they will rise, you know where they will appear. Because you have noticed them,(consciously or not), year after year while your subconscious toyed with the idea of making something with that abundance that seems to be wasted. You are a creative spirit. Have all your tools, materials and vessels ready and sterilized, and a place ,(kitchen?), to do your magic planned. Be prepared!
2 – What is it that you are waiting for? You are waiting for that first county-wide Yellow Shout of Spring Joy from the earth, and that big outward push of those Dandy Lions from the sweet loins of mother nature en mass. That is the sweet spot!. There is usually only one per year. And it is worth waiting for! It could last two weeks, or it could only last a few days before a run of cold cloudy rainy weather puts a damper on it. There will be no more of a glorious or perfect a time to harvest Dandelion flowers for wine than this. Period. Sure, there will be more Dandelion flowers all summer long, and yes you could make dandelion wine at some later point in the season. But y’know what? It simply won’t be the same, and you will never know it unless you try this out.
So,,.Do enjoy Spring, relax and breath it in, take a few days to let that warm spring glow take the winter chill out of your bones, but DON’T miss that first yellow window! Seriously, when I do miss that first virgin big yellow swath of dandelioness everywhere, I will most often just wait till the next spring and say, “oh well, it wasn’t meant to be”. That’s how important it is. Having a good recipe is only one part of making the best Dandelion wine.
3 – If you can, try to harvest on a SUNDAY. Start as close after dawn as you can. Astrologically this is the day of the Sun and The hour of the Sun. (about an hour and a half to two and a half depending on which system you use for division of Planetary hours), and you only really have to initiate the harvest then, you don’t have to complete your harvest within this time frame. Astrologically, Dandelions are ruled by the Sun. (As are Calendula, and St. John’s Wort). So from an Astrodynamic perspective they are energetically at their peak and prime, resonating and ripe, in happy harmony ,( vigorous and vibrant) at this time. Timing is everything. You can tell, if you look for it. There is an extra vibrancy and glow to them. It is not random, and it’s not your imagination.
There are other Astrological conditions that you could take into account, but if you are not familiar with the energetic connection between plants and planets, Astrological rulerships, Planetary hours and the basics of Plant Alchemy, this is a great place to start. Especially since you may not have a wide window of time to work with. Does working with plants according to their astrological rulerships make a noticeable difference in quality? I believe so.But,, you will have to try it and find out for yourself.It’s just one of those things. Esoteric, because you have to experience it from the inside to know it. Experience it first hand, first person. It is not exoteric knowledge, learned from the outside as most knowledge is transmitted to us.
4 – Morning Dew– Often, when harvesting herbs for drying, it is important to pick when the dew is dried from them, to avoid encouraging mold and other organisms while they are drying.. When harvesting flowers for wine, you do not have to wait till all the dew has dried off, morning dew is a unique ingredient. So don’t shake it off. If you have it, keep it..
5 – Find a spot where where there is an obvious abundance of Dandelions, an area rich in whatever it is that Dandelions thrive on. Physically and energetically. Don’t get too close to busy roadways where pollution from exhausts might have seeped into the ground, or anywhere there might be a chance herbicides or pesticides may have been used, and stay away from areas that may have been home to, or down hill from old industrial buildings or old land fill sites. Stay away from areas sparsely populated by Dandelion, go for the gusto! There is a reason they grow so thickly in some areas.
6 – Harvest them by hand.. not with scissors or knives. Also, If you have helpers, get someone to do the picking, and someone to nip off all the stubs of stems and anything green that is still attached. (Kids are great at this).The green parts are not needed or desired for wine and will only reduce the colour and add their own flavour. We only want the flavour of the flower. Thumbnails work perfectly for harvesting most flowers.
7 – Since you are taking something, always give something back. Whether something physical that is of benefit to the land or plant, a gesture, or something symbolic. Give and receive. Balance. Nature is big on balance. It is a law you can count on. Like Karma.
8 – Make sure all your bottles, spoons, funnels etc. are clean and sterile, if you can’t boil them then use sodium metabisulfite, a standard preservative and sterilizing chemical available in all wine and beer making supply stores. Follow the instructions for using it. It is very, very important to keep everything clean and not introduce any organisms other than the yeast we are intentionally adding.
9 –. USE WILD GINGER I always add Wild Ginger to every wine I make! I am constantly impressed with the magic it performs and the flavours it adds without being obvious or obtrusive in any way. And I am not just trying to perk up sales of Wild Ginger from my shop either. Wild Ginger lends rich character and depth to a wine. It is absolutely transformative.To any wine. Perhaps due to the complexity of its oils and resins. I have heard historically in old Europe, Clary Sage was used for a similar purpose to create “Muscatel” Wine. Clary Sage is also an herb endowed with essential oils ,(in flower), and resins, (on the stem). About a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of ground dried Wild Ginger to each gallon,(4 liters) of liquid. I have found this especially benefits floral wines that need body to compliment their lighter and more ethereal spirit.
So those are the basics of How to make a kick ass Dandelion Wine, You can use these tips with every wild wine you make, and adapt them to all your foraging forays and wildcrafting projects. Here is a simple recipe. One I hope will suit first timers as well as the practiced maker of wild wines. it can be doubled, tripled or halved. It includes a secondary fermentation which many of the old recipes do not include, but I have I found it refines your end product considerably. making it dryer, crisper, clearer and higher in alcohol content. If you find it too complex as a beginner, you will find many simpler and good recipes online. Take what you can from these tips and incorporate them in your project. Start small.
Remember to Always take notes!!! I can’t stress this enough!! Quantities, ingredients, variations from a recipe, observations, times, dates, and keep them somewhere safe for next year. This is really important and if you do keep diligent notes, I guarantee your future self will thank you! If you already have your favourite recipe, try out the tips and let me know how this seasons wines turned out for you.
MY BEST DANDELION WINE RECIPE
(Makes about 12 liters of Dandelion Wine)
3 Kilograms of cleaned Dandelion flowers.
12 Liters, (quarts) of water.
4 Kilograms sugar, brown or white.
2 cups white seedless Raisins chopped fine, (or an extra cup of sugar).
2 whole large washed Oranges, seeded and either put through the blender or chopped fine.
1 whole, washed Lemon,same as above.
6 whole clove pieces
2-1/2 teaspoons dried and powdered Wild Ginger or 60 grams,(2 oz.) fresh & chopped.
1 packet wine making yeast, or 1 tablespoon regular bread making yeast.
1 cup lukewarm water.
1 food grade white plastic bucket 15 liters capacity,(standard restaurant size used for liquids and muffin mixes, grape juice for wine etc.
Large pot that will boil 15 liters.
Old and clean Pillowcase.
Clear plastic hose for “racking”,(transferring the wine out of containers without the must).
Large funnel, and or colander that will sit firmly on top of your bucket.
one medium wine making carboy 12-15 liters.
or -3 to 4-1 gallon narrow mouthed glass jugs. The kind hot sauce and vinegar come to restaurants. Easy to find on recycling day.
Beer or wine bottles with corks or caps.
Sodium Metabisulfite for sterilizing. Available at most brew your own shops and anywhere that wine making supplies are sold. Follow directions!
All vessels and tools must be sterile.
Collect and prepare your Dandelion flowers as directed above.
Bring back to a boil for 1/2 hour, simmering on low and covered.
Let it sit covered to cool, until it is just cool enough to handle.
Pour and strain into plastic bucket through a clean washed pillowcase, or through a colander lined with doubled cheese cloth, nothing beats a pillowcase especially for wringing out the liquid and keeping larger particles from passing into your wine. the colander is just a precaution, and to support the weight, ( ideally find one that your bucket supports, or put the colander in a funnel that sits firmly on the rim of your bucket, or just use a large funnel and sit your pillowcase in it.)
Press whatever liquid you can through the pillowcase or cheese cloth. (Make sure your hands are washed and clean first).
When liquid is room temperature or a little warmer. Take one cup of liquid, (using a clean or sterile utensil), add it your cup of lukewarm water and stir in the yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes or until yeast starts “working”, (it will start creating fizzing or frothing).
Add yeast mixture to liquid in plastic bucket, cover with a clean cloth or a clean towel, (tie or use rubber band around the rim so it does not sag and come into contact with the liquid), and let sit for 1 or 2 weeks at room temperature undisturbed or until you can hear no more fizzing.
Note, if you do not hear fizzing within 24 hours of adding yeast. Put your liquid back in the pot, boil for 10 minutes, cover, wait for it to cool enough to just above body temperature and go through the process of adding your yeast again.
After a week or two, when your wine has stopped “working” or fizzing, “rack” it to a sterile carboy or to your sterile one gallon glass jugs if you don’t have a large narrow necked glass carboy. Racking in wine lingo means siphoning off your clear wine from the must that has settled on the bottom. Pouring it out would just mix in the must and carry its taste over.
Keeping a minimum of space between the top of your liquid and the top of the bottle is helpful. If needed add room temperature boiled water to bring liquid level up to 3 to 4 inches from the lip in a gallon jug and 6 to 7 inches in a large carboy.
Add CO2 locks, From a wine supply store, about $1.00 each. Or a piece of balloon rubber pulled tightly over the opening and tied, with a couple of pin holes in it for gas to escape and keep organisms out. Let sit, undisturbed in a cool dark place for secondary fermentation. Cool basements are ideal for this.
Wait 4-6 weeks, then siphon the wine off the must again, but this time into your sterile bottles.( Note; For those more experienced with wine making, you can do whatever you like at this point. You can put it back in a sterile carboy and continue your secondary fermentation, rack it as often as you like, pump it through a filter, play with the sugar/alcohol content, flavouring etc.)
Cork, cap and set aside till December at the earliest.
In December, open, decant, and have a taste of Spring in the middle of Winter.
Remember to keep CLEAR notes. Your future self will thank you.
Each type of Oleo-Gum-Resin such as Myrrh, Opoponax, Mastic, the many types of Frankincense etc., contain different proportions of water-soluble gum and alcohol soluble oleo-resins, (resins and volatile oils).
I propose that when one of these Oleo-gum-resins is tinctured to extract its medicinal constituents and properties, that the 2 solvents used for tincturing, be in the same ratio to each other, as the ratio of gum to oleo-resins in the material being tinctured.
In a traditional medicinal, water/alcohol tincture, the gums are dissolved by the water, the oleo resins by the ethanol,(alcohol). What is left over after this extraction is mainly bark and other insoluble extraneous organic material. (Spagyric tinctures often put this to good use). The point of tincturing is to extract as much of the soluble active medicinal components as possible. Ideally exhausting the material by transferring all its chemical constituents to the medicine, while preserving any preexisting synergistic effects between them.
Considering that all parts of these natural Oleo-Gum-Resin exudates, (saps), contain valuable chemical constituents and compounds, and if there is no reason to isolate or change the natural composition of the material, it would be a more efficacious medicine if preserved as close to its natural state as possible
I propose that the best way to create a water/alcohol tincture that is true to its source material, is by using the same ratio of water to ethanol as the plant material exhibits in its ratio of gum to oleo-resin. That this is the only way to accurately migrate the whole material authentically, with its inherent medicinal potency, and any “synergy” that is naturally present in the original material.
Thus, if a sample of Myrrh oleo-gum-resin contains 60% gum and 40% oleo-resins, and a Tincture was made using 100% ethanol, it would only extract the resins and volatile oils. It would have a negligible amount of water-soluble gum. Certainly nothing close to the gum to oleo-resin proportions found in the original material. One would assume this extraction would not offer the same medicinal effects as the whole oleo-gum-resin. 1- Because the water-soluble gum contains chemical constituents that have medicinal value on their own. And 2- because whatever effects the synergy of the whole material had in its natural form, would be lost.
According to this method, a solvent mix composed of 20% alcohol and 80% water would not extract a tincture that was representative of the original material either. Rather it would contain more gum than oleo-resins than the original Myrrh. The same could be said of any other combination of these two solvents other than a combination of water to alcohol that reflected as closely as possible the actual proportions of gum to oleo-resin found in the material tinctured.
Some types of Frankincense contain very little gum, such as Boswellia Frereana. As low as 0. 5%-0.1%, see AritiHerbal table of Extractability of Boswellia Resin. Other types of Frankincense have greater proportions of gum to oleo-resin. According to this theory of holistic tincturing, the unique qualities inherent in each oleo-gum-resin, can only be reproduced in a tincture if the natural ratio of gum to oleo resin in the source material is reflected accurately in the ratio of water to alcohol in the tincturing solvent. One could assume it would keep the same natural synergy in the original material intact by keeping all the chemical constituents in the same relative proportion to each other in the finished product or tincture.
I am not a trained scientist, nor do I have access to the instruments that would put this theory of holistic tincturing to the test. I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone besides myself, or if there is any corroborating research out there to support this theory, but I would Love to hear any opinions, conflicting or supporting.
As an addendum ,( written a month or two after this post), I need to add that after thought, contemplation, examination and the occasional dream, I realize there may be one other way to extract all of the essential oils, resin and gum from these oleo-gum resins. The one way they could be extracted in their entirety and with their naturally occurring proportions intact, without a knowledge of their inherent gum-resin-oil ratios is, If a “disproportionately large” amount of alcohol/water is used for the extraction. So instead of making a 1:5 or 1:6 tincture with 1 being the oleo-gum-resin, something like a 1:10 tincture could be prepared. using much more water than the quantity of gum required, and much more alcohol than the oleo-resin required. In this way all the components could be extracted. However…the obvious drawback, is that there would be a much higher quantity of liquid and a lower proportion of oleo-gum-resin. So it can be done, but with a price. In a way, cheating a bit. This 1:10 ratio tincture, though containing all the soluble and desired parts of the material, would be very weak, which is not ideal and I see no finesse, or advantage to it. It would be very very difficult, if even possible, to remove the excess solvents without losing some of the volatile oils.
Since I am on the topic I will take this opportunity to raise a point that I will address in greater detail in a future post. Lately there has been a lot of talk about the healing properties of Boswellic acid found in Boswellia Sacra. Though much important research has been done on the different types of Frankincense, and Boswellic acid does show great promise as an anti-inflammatory and antitumor, among other important applications, it is not a volatile or essential oil . Which means little, if any Boswellic acid is found in the essential oil of Boswellia Sacra/Carterii. Whatever Boswellic acid is present in the oleo-gum-resins of some of the members of the Boswellia family, resides in the resin part, not in the “Oil”, and is not normally extracted with the essential oils. If a company claims that its essential oil of Frankincense Sacra has a “high percentage of Boswellic acid, then one should ask, how did it get there??
Not many people are familiar with Wild Ginger.
It is one of those unique, well hidden treasures of the deep woods that some Canadians or Northeastern Americans might come across, but most would not recognize. This may be a good thing. I believe it is on the protected list in Maine as a threatened plant, and I wouldn’t want to see a trend.
Shade loving and often found on north facing slopes under mixed hardwoods, It clings to humus, wends around rocks, clutching at the surface of the soil and more often than not does a good job stopping soil erosion.
I would put it in a similar category of useful and highly valuable native plants as our Lady Slipper Orchid , which is almost extinct from encroachment of roads and cities and from over-harvesting.
Beautiful large green heart-shaped leaves glow & glimmer with an almost iridescent depth. In the spring they shyly hide beautiful purplish flowers, making them almost invisible. As if they were doing everything they could to not be found or recognized, to hide themselves from prying eyes and greedy hands. Leaves are similar in size, shape, colour and height to the Coltsfoot that grows almost everywhere here. Making it even harder to make a first acquaintance. It took me almost 2 years of false starts, impulsive roadside pullovers, dashes across fields, into woods, across streams, being so sure I had, finally, found it, …… and each time, catching myself a little sooner, my initial excitement tempered with a little more skepticism, as I sought out the telltale’s of those impostors, Coltsfoot and Wild Violets, blatantly impersonating Wild Ginger. Finally, I assume because the time was right, I was granted a personal audience. Deep in the woods, one on one, while hunting wild Mushrooms. I wasn’t even looking for it at the time!!
It’s Latin name is Asarum Canadense. Distinguishing it from its European cousin Asarum Europeaum, which has a little to no aroma and a general resemblance only on the surface. I believe the European version is in general toxic and medicinally acts as an emetic and Cathartic so beware. Also an abortifacient if I am not mistaken. Though it makes a pretty good shade loving ground cover in Northern climates if anyone.
Ahhhh Wild Ginger what can I say? You really have to smell it, taste it to know what I’m talking about. Scientifically it does not belong to the ginger family at all, But once you meet it you’ll know immediately why it got its name. Not quite as “hot” as Asian Ginger, but more than makes up for bite in its complex spicy flavour. It has an aroma and taste that gives it extensive possibilities in an infinite number of dishes
In the field of Natural Perfumery, its essential oil is exquisite! There’s nothing like it. I use it in perfumes, colognes, aftershaves and room sprays. Basically wherever I can. It blends well with Citrus, Woody and Balsamic essential oils, made easily into a perfume tincture. It has a high percent of volatile oils so it is worth the effort of distilling the essential oil, and I would love to extract a resinoid or concrete someday soon. I have a feeling it would add even more potential to its use in perfumery.
An interesting characteristic, is that when steam distilling the essential oil of Wild Ginger, the oil comes over a beautiful Emerald green, but over the course of a few weeks it changes permanently to a rich Amber colour. I know of no other essential oils that behave this way.
As a tea, the ground rhizomes are delicious, help ease a sore throat, mix well with other stimulating and spicy tea herbs, fruit or Citrus peels. It is warming and rejuvenating, lovely in the winter and like regular Ginger it encourages good digestion and discourages flatulence. Native North American tribes have historically used it for medicine and ceremony. In the summer I add it to iced tea and Lemonade. As a base for an alcoholic or non-alcoholic brewed Ginger Ale or beer, there is nothing like it!
Wild Ginger complements rice dishes, wild mushrooms, (and regular ones), fowl, Venison, Beef, Lamb, Chicken etc., etc., anything really!! Roasts and stir frys, Casseroles and pasta dishes. Sauces and Salad Dressings. Coarsely grind some with Mortar and Pestle and throw it in a pot of rice. It will transform it. Each little piece will turn into a flavorful chewy delicious tidbit by the time your rice is cooked, adding not only fragrance and flavor but a unique texture to your rice pot. Though I would not suggest completely replacing Ginger in the kitchen with Wild Ginger*, it creates delightful results anywhere regular Ginger is called for.
Candies, cakes, cookies and confections are a very exiting area to explore with Wild Ginger. The rhizomes make a wicked candied treat when boiled in sugar-water, then rolled in sugar, keeping unrefrigerated till it is gone, (which I promise you is never long), and the fragrant syrup from this process is perfect as a pancake or ice cream Syrup. If this Candied Wild Ginger is dipped in chocolate, I know of no other home-made confection that could compare. I add ground wild Ginger to fruit and herbal wines, Fruit cocktails and salads. I Have used it as a flavour component in a distilled liqueur, in Elderberry and Dandelion wines. There might be culinary applications it is not suited to at least experiment with. But honestly, I can’t think of even one! I usually add about 1 1/2 times more Wild Ginger to a recipe than regular dried Ginger.
If the dried rhizomes are properly stored, whole, not ground, they can keep for up to 8 years without losing their fragrance and potency. (as has been my experience). When Wild Ginger is ground and properly stored, three years is about the length of time before the flavor starts fading. I dare anyone that reads this to keep Wild Ginger in any amount till such time as the fragrance fades!! If you have it, you will use it till it is all gone!
For the past 14 years I have taken care of some plots of Wild Ginger growing “untended” in our area. (Locations I keep secret and share with only a handful of trusted friends). I harvest yearly in the fall and sometimes in the spring, experiencing the subtle differences each season lends it as I rotate between plots. After much trial and error I have come up with a couple of good harvesting methods that strike a balance between bringing home a bountiful harvest, and leaving behind happy thriving plants. This allows me to harvest every other year or so, and come back to vibrant vigorous growth that shows barely a sign of my presence. A very satisfying feeling. Win win, like good business we all benefit and do well from our relationship. Give and take. Honesty. A happy relationship.
There are many myths, anthropological, cultural and hard to prove theories about not using “Cold Steel” to harvest plants. whether it disturbs the plants energy, or the energies that are exterior to the plant. Mostly theories that are very difficult to prove even with advanced tools. Some things we just have to study or try for ourselves or we will never find out what is fact, what is fiction, what works and what doesn’t.
I must admit, using bone tools feels like I am working from the inside out, if that makes any sense. As if I am a part of the plant or process, not intruding, disrupting, invading. Feels more like sharing than taking. Sometimes I can only tell if something really works by how it “feels” to me, or by the results I get, like using Astrodynamics and Astrology to work in harmony with the plants. (As I do with Wild Ginger as well). The resulting products look, smell, and work better, last longer than the mass harvested and processed products I gauge them against. The whole process, in all it’s parts, just “feels” right, so that’s what I do. I also keep a thumbnail or two, extra long, from late Spring into Late fall, specifically for harvesting semi soft stems of flowers and medicinal plants. It’s just what works for me. No one else is obligated to follow suit.
I finally took down a few kilograms of fall 2012 harvest Wild Ginger that has hung from my rafters since the fall. I will distill a few Kilograms into essential oil this week, and keep the rest to sell locally and in my online shop. If anyone is interested in making the acquaintance of my fragrant friend. I’d be happy to grind some up for you, or ship you whole pieces.
Fall harvest of 2012 is cured, it always seems to mellow in the loveliest way when I make myself wait at least till spring to bring it down and use it
It is ready now to use for all the above mentioned purposes and pleasures, and I will have it set up for sale in my web-store at apothecarysgarden.com once I get this blog posted and have a break! Here is a link to the Apothecary’s garden shop, Have a look. If you like you can order some for yourself and try it in your own dishes, and please let me know what you think.
I will post some of my favourite Wild Ginger recipes on my Recipe Page, but please be patient, it may take me a few days to get that organized. So check back if you don’t find anything new. Everything seems to take time!!!
* Wild Ginger belongs to a very large family of plants found around the world. Some of its distant relatives, especially in northern Asia have been found to contain amounts of aristolochic acid which is a carcinogen. As far as I know our Asarum species does not contain these acids in any but trace amounts, if at all. I have not been able to find any information or studies done specifically on our Wild Ginger in this regard, but I do suggest not replacing your use of Ginger completely with Wild Ginger. Everything in moderation. And educate yourself… Here is a link to the Wikipedia site for Asarum Canadense, if anyone would like to edify themselves further.
Continuing to work on a Frankincense anti aging/wrinkle crème and a Frankincense rejuvenating mask from the (post distillation) gum and resin residue of different types of Frankincense. Here I am distilling the essential oils from Frankincense, Boswellia species.
By “post distillation” I mean that after distilling off the essential oils, what I am left with are the water-soluble gum and alcohol-soluble resin.
Since essential oils can irritate the skin, especially of the face, post distillation allows me to add a controlled amount of essential oils of my choice, isolate the water-soluble gums from the alcohol-soluble resins and remove all extraneous materials from them.
The method for distillation is steam/hydro distillation using a simple home-made pot still.
The oleo-gum-resin for this distillation is Frankincense Papyrifera from Ethiopia. Because this is an experiment I only used 2 kg. of resin. Much less than this still can process.
The ratio of essential oils in each type of Frankincense varies greatly. One can collect anywhere from 0.05% to 10% essential oil from Frankincense and other oleoresins.
The sieve keeps the resin from sitting on the bottom of the pot where it could burn. If the resin did get burned, even slightly, the fragrance of all the components would be affected, making resin, gum, oil and residue in the still, unusable for any purpose whatsoever and no way to reclaim them or separate the burnt odor from them. In fact, on top of the loss of the material, the whole still, including over 8 feet of air-cooled copper condenser would have to be scrubbed and practically sterilized to make sure there was not the slightest remnant of burnt residue or odor in the whole distillation train. I shudder at the thought!!! I had already done this twice prior to distilling the Frankincense just the day before. First removing traces of the last essential I had distilled, then had to do it all over again because I could smell hints of cleaning products in the condenser when I turned up the heat and started the distillation process.
The lesson here, I believe, is that there are benefits to using standard glass water cooled condensers. I love the fact that this one utilizes air and consumes no resources to function. But it has its drawbacks.
This is a photo of the resin after distilling. Note the change in colour and texture. A pool of gum has settled at the bottom of the sieve, trying to drip into the pot through resin clogged sieve holes. Also note the milky white colour of the water after it has dissolved some of the the water soluble gums.
Now that the essential oil is distilled from the oleo-gum-resin, most of the resin is in the basket. Except for some that dripped through the sieve and formed the tastiest looking layer of caramel coloured resin on the bottom of the pot.The water in the pot is white from dissolved gum. What remains is to separate the rest of the gum from the resin, (using water as the solvent), then remove all extraneous materials, pieces of bark, stone, sand etc., and purify the components.
When gum and resin are separated and purified they will be recombined in an emulsion with the addition of emollient and skin nourishing oils, antioxidants, and a small amount of broad spectrum preservative.
Even though the prototypes and first formulas seem to have kept well for months without obvious spoilage or mold. And even though i have a deep respect for the preserving qualities of tree oleo resins. I can’t take the chance of bacteria or other organisms growing after making an oil/water emulsion.
Ruled astrologically by the Moon, as some other bitter plants, it is time to tincture Myrrh. Today’s full moon in Libra, is closest to the spring equinox and appropriately, represents equilibrium and balance. The symbol for Libra are the scales. Its keyword is Balance. Balance between male and female energies. Winter and Summer. inner and outer, self and other. As the sun and the seasons progress with Aries passion towards another Solstice, new beginnings, renewed direction, goals and ambitions are in the air, with a timely reminder to temper our actions and reactions, with balance. Sometimes easy to forget when swept up in Spring projects and passions.
I love the way the full moons are always poised against, and illuminated by their opposite Sun sign. A perfect balance of friction and attraction. A choreographed dance of opposites made in heaven. Aries Sun and its opposite, Libra Moon. The Moon’s feminine and watery reflective ebb and flow, contrasting the direct intensity of the Sun, especially when in fiery Aries, makes them a dynamic match of opposites.
Nowis the time. It has built up for weeks. Thinking, pondering, planning, waiting, distilling water, preparing. Waiting… Writing ….. In the fridge it waited as per my earlier post of how to grind resins. It is appropriate that it come out of the cold of the fridge (Frig, Frigga) /winter to spin around, be ground to nondescript powder. Then, in the bright of the full Libra Moon and the waxing warm Sun, dissolves into the waters of life, (Aqua Vitae), like the salt of the sea, becoming one with the liquid, and turned into a tincture. Losing itself into the menstruum. Transformation. This is the time, for the Alchemical “Solve’ “, the first step in the process.
Myrrh,( Mor, Hebrew), Mar,(Hebrew, bitter), , Mar Yam, (Mariam, Miriam, Mary, Maria), Mar Yam-(,Hebrew Bitter of the sea), or froth of the sea, salt of the sea, perhaps also known as Ashtoreth, Astarte, Ostara. Shechinah. The Holy Consort and feminine counterpart to YHWH. Feminine principles of the Moon and element of water.
Seems today is my , Ostara ,Easter and Passover. At 05:27 AM this morning, I covered the finely ground, powdered brown bitterness of Myrrh with the menstruum. Pondering while nibbling on the Myrrh as I work, it is SO bitter! Grinding and thinking about the Passover Seder. It always felt like a bit of a sham with no one around that could give an answer that “rang” with Truth of deeper meanings for the traditional symbols. Mostly receiving information that no one has actually understood, or personally stood under in decades. The representative “bitter” element or “Maror”, on the Seder platter now days is Horseradish, and not bitter in any way. Pungent? Yes. Bitter? No. In fact the “Maror” (the “bitter herb), may well have been and more likely was,” Mar”(, Hebrew-Bitter), and “Mor” ,(Hebrew-Myrrh), so (MARMOR?), Maror? My feeling is that Myrrh is likely the original basis of the original Passover Maror.
I can think of nothing that represents palatable bitterness as perfectly as Myrrh, which was readily available for thousands of years in ancient Israel. Also Interesting is the inclusion in the Seder platter of salt water as “the tears we shed as slaves”, (The above mentioned froth of the sea/Moon reference). The lambs shank bone, a symbol of a tender young Aries Ram Sun? The “Karpas” or greens, a symbol of spring growth. The egg on the platter at the Seder, fertility and Spring, but also representative of the duality and union of Yin and Yang, Equinox/Balance, Yolk as Sun, White as moon, (“Ha Levanah”, or the “White one”, is the Hebrew word for “The Moon”). Moon Feminine and Yin embracing and receiving the Sun and Yang principal, the yolk.
It is a time for new beginnings, rebirth, regardless of one’s faith. A time when we might have more impetus to try, and succeed. To emancipate ourselves from forms of slavery we laboured under till now. Whether self-created and self-defeating patterns and habits, or unhealthy dynamics we have perpetuated with others. Patterns we have accepted and tolerated to our detriment for too long for all the wrong reasons. Libra seems to imply the dynamics between ourselves and others. Relationships. Our Easter, Ostara, Passover ,Equinox passage is an opportunity for both reflection and action. Self-examination, new choices, new beginnings. A time we might see our light reflected back to us, and a time for us, like the Sun, to wax bright. With any luck we can hope to ride this wave of seasonal growth, and work with the natural cycles around and within us to carry ourselves closer to our goals..
And all the while, try to remember, balance.
The Myrrh Tincture: Created at 05:27 EST. During the Pisces Lunation cycle, Full Moon in Libra, Sun in Aries. Ascendant in Taurus? A solvent mix of 55% distilled water to 45% pure alcohol, (mirroring the assumed ratio of gum to oleo-resin in the Myrrh), was poured and covered the powdered Myrrh. It basked in the predawn moonlight symbolically, and was put away to gestate and circulate. Left in the care of natures rhythms till it is time for me to step in and give Nature a little help. Take the tincture to the next level. Likely on the path to becoming a Spagyric tincture.
Harvested and processed in small batches by hand according to traditionalAlchemical/Astrological methods
St John’s Wort Oil 2010
St. John’s Wort, A.K.A. Hypericum Perforatum, is a powerful medicinal herb found growing over most of the northern hemisphere. Besides its well-known anti-depressant properties, the oil extracted from its flowers is used externally as a potent wound healer, antibacterial, antiviral ,anti-inflammatory, analgesic,(pain reducer), and as a specific for healing nerve related problems.
We have records of its use since before the times of ancient Greece by many cultures around the world. A traditional treatment for the pain of bursitis, sciatica, neuralgia and myalgia , it helps heal cuts and wounds in general, and specifically those in nerve rich areas of the body, such as broken or crushed hands or feet. I have come upon references to its ability to clean and heal dirty, festering sores and ulcers, while its well researched anti-inflammatory properties are known for treating sore or swollen joints, sprains,strains,rheumatism and arthritis
In the Home
In the home it finds a respectable place in the family first aid kit for minor burns, sunburn, dry, itchy and cracked skin, it is a traditional remedy for childhood earaches cuts and scrapes and is known as a soothing treatment for hemorrhoids, piles, caked or sore breasts.
English: A table on medical astrology. From an Icelandic manuscript, JS 392 8vo, written between 1747 and 1752. Now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Astrologically, St. John’s Wort is ruled by The Sun and the sign of Leo.
From an Astrodynamic perspective, the medicinal qualities of St. John,s Wort herb are at their peak when these two astrological influences are prominent and well placed. With an eye to the cycles and placement of the moon, these are the times we cultivate, harvest and process the plant.
Science can determine the chemical constituents in each plant, how they affect our bodies and to what degree they are present in the medicine we consume, but it has no methods yet of measuring the energetic qualities of Plants or how they affect us..
What makes one product of excellent quality and another product with the same ingredients inferior?
When the sun, planets and moon were lined up nicely, the flowers were pounded by hand with cold pressed extra virgin olive oil in one of the larger mortars. An antique from the early 1800′s made from Lignum Vitae, ( Wood of life). A few liters at a time, packed into large glass vessels to bask in the sun for a “Philosophical month”. A method that after many hundreds of years still consistently yields exceptional results. Most herbs will not tolerate that kind of direct exposure to the sunlight or the ongoing heat, but St. John’s Wort loves it! ( One way we can tell a plants real affinities and qualities).
St. John’s Wort Oil. Flowers macerating for a “Philosophical Month”.
Crystal clear, Ruby red, with a crisp, sharp, fresh fragrance. This years’ oil is a beautiful and potent extraction of the plants healing properties. I believe it is my best yet. Kept properly it will serve well for many years.
If you would like to purchase St. John’s Wort oil, or if you have any questions about it and any other items I make, click on the picture below. It will direct you to a page where I will be happy to answer your questions or arrange shipping some to you.
St. John’s Wort oil an Astrodynamic preparation, 50 & 100 ML.
Herbal Apothecary, Wildcrafter, Sculptor, Craftsman.
Owner of Apothecary's Garden and Fairtrade Frankincense LTD. Providing a selection of fresh & fair trade, ethical and sustainably harvested Frankincense and Myrrh species, local and exotic fragrance materials, unusual essential oils, Natural perfume ingredients and animal essences. Astrodynamic plant Preparations, Herbal salves, cremes, tinctures and oils.
Tested on Animals and Babies, Children, Parents and Old Folks.
A sap for resins, ritual, Sun, Moon and Mother Nature.
A journal about Herbs, plants and processes. Recipes, plant Alchemy and our Relationship with Nature. Natural fragrance and medicine. Astrodynamics, rhythms and cycles, Medical Astrology, traditional Wisdom. Herbs and Healing, Science and Spirit. Oh and moustaches.
Fairtrade Frankincense explores our ancient and modern relationship with Nature's fragrant, medicinal oleoresins and provides a link joining traditional harvesters directly with our western market in fair and mutually beneficial commerce.