Solstice Lavender Swoon!

Grosso Lavender

Wishing you all a happy Solstice and first day of summer!  I celebrated the day completely immersed in Lavender harvesting, distillation and garbling the bundles of Lavender I dried last week.

Harvesting different stages of Lavender stems

 These Lavender plants are 5 feet across, and the flowers are in different stages of bloom, depending on how much sun, wind, etc., affect that plant in that area.  So, since some of the areas of each plant are in full bloom, and others have only 3-4 flowers, the stems are purposed differently.

If you watch the bees, and notice which areas of the plants they are active on, it is easy.  They will show you which parts of the Lavender have the most flowers open!  That is another reason I like to cut Lavender with a sickle.  I wave the sickle over the plant just above the flowers before reaching in to grab a handful of stems.  It warns the bees I am coming in to their area, and I talk to them, too, reminding them there is plenty for us to share.  So far, so good. If using the buds dried, i.e., for sachets or in soap, I like to cut the stem when about 3 flowers have opened and the rest remain closed.  The reason for that is that the scent is fully developed, but the buds will hold on to the stems pretty well even while hanging in a bunch.  Once many flowers are open, the buds are great for Lavender Wands, and with all the buds open, it is perfect for distillation.  So though the whole plants look patchy today, there honestly is a reason for my madness.  🙂  I’m not just a bad barber.

Flower end cuttings of Stems for distillation – see all the tiny flowers that are open?

 The stems of fresh Lavender in the bowl were wilted overnight.  I can fit more wilted plants into the biomass sphere for distillation than I can when they are stiff and fresh cut.

First Lavender distillation!


Wow!  I got 3-5x as much Lavender essential oil over the amounts achieved with the other plants I have distilled.  And my kitchen smells like waving Lavender fields.

I cut this Lavender and hung the bundles to dry a few days ago

Hoping it is warm and sunny today in your corner of the world!

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Alchemy

Clary Sage blossoms

I just finished my first fresh distillation!  The difference between fresh and dried distillations is like night and day.  Clary Sage was the first plant ready in the herb garden.  It  does not flower until the 2nd year, so I have been waiting for a very long time.  The distillation turned out great, but there were definitely some teaching moments.  Clary Sage is a highly aromatic plant, historically used in perfuming,  love potions, added to cordials or special liquors, and used as a hops substitute in specialty beers.

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Biomass sphere

I learned the hard way to chop this plant outdoors, rather than in my kitchen.  The entire first floor of our home was filled with a cloying, sweet, balsamic scent.  It was a study of too much-ness!  Once I stuffed the biomass sphere with the plant material, the scent became very mild, and almost unnoticeable.

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Clary Sage, at early stage of bloom

Clary Sage has a beautiful presence in the herb garden.  My plants are 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide.  I have heard some plants reach heights of 6 feet!   The flowers first appear as pinkish gray pine cones hanging between the leaves.    Some of the leaves are as big as your hand, and they are aromatic as well.


Steam Distillation equipment heating up

 

Separator

The essential oil and the hydrosol are absolutely wonderful!  The white area in the glass tube above is the essential oil, about 1/3 oz.  It is lighter than water, so it floats at the top.  It is actually a crystal clear oil, but the condenser is cold, so it appears more solid than it will be at room temperature later.  I have two or three more distillations of Clary Sage coming up, and in the end, I should have a little more than an ounce of essential oil and about 5 pints of hydrosol, or flower water.

Hydrosol

Hydrosols are the sweetly aromatic echos of essential plant oil, the life force of the plant.  They can be used instead of plain, distilled water in soaps, creams and lotions, to add scent and healing qualities to the product.   Hydrosol made with healing plants can be used as a wound wash, a healing tub tea, to rinse hair, to hydrate skin, and so much more.  I cannot wait to learn more about it and use it in every way possible.

Chamomile Harvest

The cuttings of just one German Chamomile plant filled the harvesting basket.  I am only growing two this year, and enjoyed an early harvest.  I hope to see a 2nd, full bloom before the extreme summer temperatures kick in, but after that the flowers are pretty much random.  Their scent is so sweet and lovely!

Our neighbors are expecting a baby girl in late June, which gives me just enough time to solar infuse Chamomile, Rosa Rugosa petals and Lavender flower buds in Rice Bran and Meadowfoam Seed oils, both of which are high in fatty acids and known for their gentleness.  It is such a pleasure to gift a batch of herbal diaper balm to new mothers.

 

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Garbling Chamomile can be a bit of tedium, but as luck would have it a friend dropped by.  We had a good visit and a glass of wine while I snipped the flowers off the stems!

The flowers from both plants filled these three drying baskets.  They will be dry in about a week, and fill two quart jars for the pantry, for later use.

By the end of the season, solar herbal infusions will fill my kitchen window sill.  =D  I infuse herbs in oil by the simpling method, because it allows me to specifically combine or exchange infused oils of equal strength for salves or balms.

The center jar is filled with Cottonwood buds in olive oil, solar infusing since January, and I probably won’t strain them off until the end of June.  It takes several months to dissolve the resinous coating of the buds in oil by the solar method.  But,  I’m not in a hurry and they aren’t an ingredient in my diaper balm recipe.   I  just enjoy seeing the colorful, healing jars of herbs and oils as I go about my day.

 

Distilling!

My Herb Garden, May 2015

There is a stand of white Sage just to the right of the orange Calendula flowers in the photo of my herb garden, above.   I made the sage smudge sticks last year, and hope to have twice as much sage this year.  See the free-form rock goddess watching over my herb garden?

My mad-scientist steam distiller has finally arrived, just ahead of the flowers in my herb garden!  I simply could not wait to try it out, even though fresh plants make the most potent hydrosol and essential oil.   It could be a month before the herbs are in flower. It is important to harvest each herb for distilling when the plant essence is at its most powerful, and that could be a month away

White Sage smudge sticks

So, I stuffed the glass vessel with some dried sage from last year, and fired it up!

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It was kind of scary to set the heating plate to high and put the glass on it!  My favorite thing about it was hearing the fascinating laboratory type gurgles and watching the process happen.  I could not look away!

In the end, the pint-sized bottle at the right held the aromatic water (Hydrosol) and the essential oil came out of that little blue spigot into a small, separate bottle. It yielded just under a teaspoon’s size of essential oil.  I hear fresh plants yield 2-3 times that amount.

I could have used a little more Sage, but this was the first time I distilled, so I didn’t realize that.  The steam passes through the cut up plant material and condenses in the tubes as a mixture of water with essential oil.

The process takes about an hour and a half to two hours.  The bulk of the essential oil apparently separates from the plant matter in the first 20 minutes.  A little more happens along the way.  So, though you could run it three hours before the glass retort boils dry, it really isn’t necessary.  In case you are wondering,  the water in the boiling vessel receives some back-flow from the plants above it, and gets a little discolored during the process.

Glop of essential oil floating on Hydrosol.

The essential oil in the above photo is lighter than the Hydrosol (flower water), so it floats.

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I ended up with almost a quart of sage hydrosol and a very small amount of essential oil.  I can hardly wait till the fresh sage is ready to distill!

Still Room Adventures Ahead!

 

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This may prove to be my most magical growing season, ever.

Herbs have been seducing me for over twenty years, beginning as a soap maker. Using a few herbs in my soaps somehow led to growing my own herb garden and making lotions, potions and medicinal remedies for my family. Since I can’t grow every herb I want, I have learned to identify and forage for some herbs in the wild. There are so many dimensions to the plant kingdom that even a lifetime is not enough.

This summer will be filled with mad scientist adventures!  I recently figured out that the process of learning is almost as much fun as the successes are, to me.   I ordered a 2 liter glass Still for my soap making room, which will allow me to make small amounts of steam distilled Essential Oils and Hydrosols from the plants surrounding me. (Once I know what I am doing!) There will be a learning curve to the process of distillation, and I will happily share my mishaps and triumphs in this blog.

Do you steam distill or think you might want to someday?

Perchance To Dream

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Herbal Sleep Pillow

Do you know anyone who has trouble getting to sleep?  A friend has recently had heart surgery and is on a prescription medication regimen.  Her physician advised her against using herbs orally, even mildly relaxing, herbal teas that might possibly interact with the medicine.  Her sleep is often fitful, at best.  I recently made  sleep pillow for her, and the sleepy scent of it has helped her relax enough to drift off to a deeper sleep.

These little sleep pillows are naturally and beautifully scented with organically grown, relaxing herbs.  The finished size is 6 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ x 1/2″ (or any size you like), and designed to be placed on or next to your regular bed pillow.  Sew an inner liner case of gauzy cotton,  1/2″-3/4″ smaller all around than the outer case.   Fill it with about 1/2 cup of herbs so it easily slips inside the outer cover.  Attach a velcro closure to the liner so the herbs can be replaced and both parts of the pillow can be washed.  If you have a sewing machine, you can make the liner and the pillow case in about 30 minutes.

Relaxing, dried herbal blend

I assembled the above collection of herbs from those I dried at harvest last fall.  They include Rosa rugosa petals, Chamomile, Lavender, Hops and Lemon Balm.  The herbs hold their vibrancy and scent very well if stored in a jar, out of direct light.  Sleep pillows make great gifts for sleepless friends and relatives!

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Rosa rugosa

If you don’t grow herbs yourself, you can purchase them in small amounts from a local, reputable herb store or even order them online.   The dried herbs should be vibrant, recognizable and appear to still contain the life force of the living plant.  Two of my favorite dried herb suppliers are Mountain Rose Herbs or Dandelion Botanical Company, both in the Pacific Northwest.

Fresh, dried hops

Dried hops are only potent for as long as they retain a green hue.  Once they turn tan or brown, they are no longer useful for this purpose.

Are you growing herbs this year?

Provence Lavender

 

Ostara, Spring Equinox!

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Tra-la, it’s finally spring!

We feel really lucky to have a greenhouse. It is not a big one, (8’x10′) and not a new one, but it is just right for us. In 2014 we bought it for almost nothing from friends who didn’t want it, and moved it on a flatbed truck to the field behind our home.  It was a short, but precarious journey at 25 mph on back roads!  Once we got it home, we excavated a 6 inch deep “floor”, lined it with weed cloth and gravel, and secured it with a new foundation.

Last summer  we learned what not to do in a greenhouse, and this year we almost know what we are doing! We celebrated this new season of beginnings by rooting starts of Lavender, Garden Sage, Thyme, Hyssop and Mint from existing plants, and planting many new medicinal herb seeds.

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I made some herb garden scrub soap this week, too, as I am definitely going to need it in the coming months.  What are your spring traditions?

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