Tried Something New

Botany & Wildcrafting Course by Herbal Academy

So, my AMAZING husband got me something pretty remarkable for Christmas. I know it’s March. I know I’m super late in trying my Christmas gift. Don’t judge me. It takes me a bit to research before stepping into the unknown. And it was well worth it!

Zach got me:

*drum roll*

Photographed by Amanda Harman

A still. No, I’m not making moonshine. Living as green and healthy as possible has led me to the adventures of making my own everyday hygiene and beauty items. Not everything is homemade, but I’m getting there with my homemade charcoal toothpaste, salves, and deodorant (soon to be soap!). In this process I have started collecting a very large amount of essential oils. Already having started my own medicinal herb garden, Zach got me a copper still with the idea of making my own hydrosols and essential oils.

And it made a LOVELY centerpiece for my dining room table until Spring Break rolled around and I felt comfortable using it. And by comfortable, I mean my husband saw me cleaning nonstop and it drove him crazy so he set it up for me and told me to take a break and play.

I decided to harvest my mugwort. Why? It’s my largest plant, grows back quickly, and I figured no one would really want to fight over it should it be successful.

Photographed by Amanda Harman

I packed everything in tightly and made the mistake of not chopping the herb (more on that later). For this to work, water is heated under where the herb is placed. The steam travels through a condenser (the outside filled with ice cold water being circulated with a pump).

Photographed by Amanda Harman

I monitored the temperature of the water nonstop. It was my first time using it and I was paranoid. I waited. And waited. I grew impatient within five minutes, waiting for the water temperature to rise.

Photographed by Amanda Harman

I finally smelled the mugwort. It was pungent. It was exciting. I felt witchy and accomplished having taking the essences of something I grew and capturing it in a mason jar. I had my very first hydrosol.

Photographed by Amanda Harman

The hydrosol is mixed with the essential oil. I recently did tea tree and chopped the leaves and got a very large amount of essential oil in comparison with the mugwort. I’m unsure if it is because of plant type differences or the chopping of the harvest, but my gut says it was the chopping. I am still waiting for the water and oil to completely separate naturally before removing the oil, so we’ll see. Even though, hydrosols have their uses in aromatherapy and homemade beauty products. They’re not as intense as essential oils. So far, I have enjoyed pouring spearmint hydrosol into my diffuser without worry.

The entire process took about two and a half hours. I didn’t want to burn anything or run out of water and not know. I know copper can be hardy, but I was constantly worried about the soldering holding everything together. When the hydrosol leaves the condenser, it is important to have the container collecting it lower than the still. It’s important that gravity be allowed to perform its job. The hydrosol must be stored in a dark glass container, or in a dark location. Mine is currently in the makeshift pantry we use under the stairs. My fingers are crossed for success, but I think I’ll find more success in my last minute, deal of the day I had with tea tree. I am looking forward to learning more about this art and putting it to use in our household. Anything unique to add to my herbal medicine closet is well worth the time and effort put into it.

Does anyone else out there have any experiences with working with stills, oils, or herbs? If so, please comment below and tell me all about it.

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5 thoughts on “Tried Something New

  1. I just made my first big hydrosol using the big pot method and I’m concerned about it spoiling so I put it in the fridge. But I’m wondering how to preserve it. Do I need to add a bit of alcohol?

    1. It doesn’t keep as long on the shelf, this is true. If you do keep it out of the fridge for any length of time, keep it in a dark place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate much. Putting it in the fridge keeps it for about a year, but it really depends on the type. Some last longer. Also make sure not to contaminate it with dirty hands.

      Don’t add alcohol, it’ll ruin the entire batch.

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