Archive for June, 2012

Spring tonic tinctures

A few weeks ago I blogged about making chickweed ointment – Stellaria media – and using the remainder for a tincture.  Well, the tincture has had its daily shaking and shuggling for three weeks and I have combined it with a Cleavers – Galium aparine – tincture and a Dandylion – Taraxacum officinale – tincture I started at the same time.  The mixture contains equal parts of each for a fresh, zingy Spring Tonic.

Chickweed, apart from being amazing in ointments and creams for itchy skin, is anti-inflammatory, demulcent (soothing, smoothing and softening) and has a reputation for being an excellent tonic, cleanser  and decongestant.  It’s also extremely nutritious.  I made a 1:1 mixture (one part chopped fresh herbs to one part 40% vodka).  Cleavers is a lymphatic cleanser, mainly soluble in water and therefore should have had a 25% alcohol menstruum, but I only had the 40% vodka – was deeply darkly green and smelled amazing though, so I hope it’s worked.  Dandylion is a fine kidney and liver cleanser largely by virtue of its diuretic properties, flushing through kidneys and therefore also liver.  I chopped leaves and root and made a folk mixture with 40%, filling the jar with herb and then filling it again with vodka.  The resulting mixture of three is deep, dark green and smells of fresh green leaves.

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Our garden has been giving us a bumper crop of (inadvertant) Comfrey – Symphytum officinale – so I gathered it all in and set about drying the leaves.  First wash everything as it seems to be mud-splattered, then strip the leaves from the stalks, or the other way round.  I found that folding the leaves along their stalks inwards, so underside out, allowed me to grasp the stalk and tear it out from the stalk all the way up, almost to the tip where it becomes very thin.  Then the drying…

On greaseproof paper on the floor in the library?  Not even wilting.  In the laundry with the airing cupboard door open?  Becoming if anything slightly less dry.  Hung in bunches from the light fittings (candelabra type thingies, so lots of branches to hang things from)?  Nothing.  Last resort, oven on at a very low temperature.  Hours, hours, hours and hours later… nothing.  Huh?  I took my problem with me (the problem, not the symphytum) to Catherine at the RBGE, who recommended a dehydrator – from Lakeland for about £50.  So…

Ta daaaahhhh!

I have a new toy 🙂

Very pleased with it, and the symphytum dried in about 3 hours.  The second batch is now in.

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We’ve been using our chickweed ointment as lip balm, so new supplies were in order.  St. Mary’s Cathedral around the corner from us has yielded a wonderful harvest of luscious deep green chickweed, Stellaria media, untouched by dogs, chemicals or pesticides and traffic fumes –  so much so that I have been able to make plenty of ointment, with some infused oil left over for cream, and I have made a tincture from the rest.

To make ointment you need infused oil and beeswax.  For the infused oil take a good handful of chopped chickweed (sort through carefully for foreign bits – mine included loads of Cleavers) and spread out in a small baking tray.  Mine made a layer about a centimetre high.  Cover this completely with olive oil and mix in well.  Place the tray on the hob and heat until sizzling – about 1 minute in my case – then transfer to an oven at 140 C degrees – no fan.  Let this ‘simmer’ until the herb has crisped.  This way you know the aqueous (water) content of the herb has evaporated.  I left this to cool overnight and lengthen the infusion time.

Once the oil has cooled strain it carefully through muslin and squeeze out the last drop of oil from the plant material left over (the marc).  My infused oil turned out a beautiful deep green.  You will need oil to beeswax (organic unbleached) in a ratio of 85g oil to 15g beeswax for a reasonably firm ointment.  I had several containers I wanted to fill so took the trouble to do the maths and use exactly (nearly exactly) enough oil.  I had 5 15g ointment pots and one 60g one, requiring 135g, or slightly less, of finished product.  This worked out at 108g of infused oil and 19g of beeswax, giving me 127g – I didn’t want to overfill the pots.

Oil and beeswax then go in a glass pyrex bowl in a saucepan with boiling water coming not more than half way up the glass bowl.  In other words, a bain marie.  Keep the saucepan on a low heat and wait for the beeswax to melt.  I tend to stir a lot, as I am usually quite excited by this stage.  When the mixture is clear, you can test how firm the ointment is going to be by cooling the mixture on the back of a spoon.  If it’s too runny add a few more grammes beeswax.  If it is setting too hard add a few grammes of infused oil.

Pour it carefully into squeaky clean (sterilized) pots and let cool before putting the lids on.  I labelled as follows:  Stellaria media Lips and Itches ointment, 85:15 oil to beeswax, 05.06.12.  The rest of the oil I bottled and labelled for later use.

For the tincture I followed The Herbarium’s advice again (except I only had 40% vodka and they recommend 30% alcohol) and tried a 1:1 40% tincture with the Stellaria chopped very fine in the Braun blitzer.  This means weighing out your herb and adding the same weight of 40% vodka.  Unless you have 30% something, in which case use that.  Hmmm.  We shall see whether the 40% is the right menstruum for persuading the goodies out of chickweed.  Some herbal constituents are extracted with water and some with alcohol, and sometimes the ratio has to be just right – hopefully with Stellaria it won’t be crucial.  If one is using fresh plant material there is a fair bit of water in any case, and as the alternative is to chop roughly and make a 1:3 mixture, i.e. 1 part herb to 3 parts alcohol, I suspect it will be ok.  Clueless, really, just enthusiastic.

Tempest is finished – photos to follow on ravelry when I can get a moment free.  Am very pleased with it 🙂

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