Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Off the Beaten Path - Distillation

 It is no exaggeration to say that it has been a very long time since we had time to do things just for the fun of it.  There have been deadlines, commitments, external stuff, internal stuff, and all kinds of things holding our noses to the grind stone for way too long.  BUT now we get to play. 
A couple of years ago the witch hazel finally grew more vigorously than the groundhog could manage, and I've been daydreaming about distilling some of it.  We'd taken a class with Phyllis Light that inspired us to fill a jar with it, and then cover with wintergreen isopropyl alcohol, and that was really nice - but we have a still, and we have witch hazel.
What we don't have is wintergreen.  I've planted it 3 times, but so far have not found the place it wants to grow.  So I started thinking about other things that might be nice.  They wouldn't have the same properties as wintergreen, but maybe we could come up with something like a home made Sea Breeze.

A walk around the yard while gathering the witch hazel yielded a lot of great additions.

Several sprigs of lavender, a cucumber, some peppermint, mountain mint, thyme, and of course, the witch hazel filled the basket.

Normally we don't filled the bioflask more than about half way, but experience has taught us that the cucumber will quickly drop its liquid content into the lower boiling flask. 
Peeling the witch hazel bark from the twigs was an interesting experience.  The skin on my fingers felt a little tight and dry.  The astringent nature of the plant was easily apparent in the way it felt. 
The cucumber is a peculiar combination of astringency and soothing.  We've made cucumber hydrosol before.  In fact, it was one of our first experiments.  We didn't know that the cell walls would rupture as soon as the steam hit it, with liquid rushing down into the lower flask - or that it would require the panicked use of a piece of spare tubing to siphon that boiling liquid off...  It makes a wonderful, soothing toner.
The addition of the mints, lavender, and thyme were mostly for scent.  They may also be useful for antibiotic properties and pain (as in a liniment).

I used 100 proof vodka to preserve it at 25%.
Before adding the alcohol, I tried it on a couple things to see how it worked without having to figure out if it was the hydrosol or the alcohol.  It is perfect.  Great toning properties, somewhat drying, but soothing at the same time. 
It can be used for a lot of different things.  Any kind of skin problem, like burns, bites, rashes, and even bruising.  It's recommended for things like swimmer's ear, where moisture is trapped, so anyplace where skin folds create a problem or even diaper rash.

We've very happy with it.  I'm not sure I've ever seen people distilling combinations of plant material in one distillation.  It's most likely against "the rules" much like we are so often extolled to tincture one herb at a time. 
We don't follow that same rule when it comes to herb teas, so this seemed like a reasonable experiment.  And so it was!

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