Perking away…

I have already shared a little bit of my tincturing process with you.  In a nutshell, you take something medicinal or fragrant, soak it in alcohol for a few weeks to a month, then strain it out until you’re left with a potent brew.  But what if you, like me, are short on that most virtuous of virtues, PATIENCE?  Day after day, you wander by those tantalizing bottles with sinister floating bits of whatever material you’re just itching to work with.  You shake them. You open the lid, take a smell.  Hmph, day after day all you smell is booze.  When will this torture END????  Well luckily for us, there is another way:  percolation!

If you’re thinking that word sounds a bit like the way coffee is made, you’re right.  It’s the same principle, only with alcohol instead of water being used to dissolve the active components and wash them through into the solution.  Percolation was originally a pharmacist’s trick.  I won’t lie to you, it isn’t exactly a beginner’s method and takes a bit of dexterity, and not all herbs will percolate well.  It also won’t work well with small amounts of herb, say less than 2 ounces, since the percolation cone won’t be full enough to provide a uniform column.  But I swear, when it works it’s like MAGIC.  Which is why we all started working with herbs in the first place, so that we could play green witch/magician/alchemist what have you, right?  No?  I digress…


Love potion!

My first batch was a damiana love potion, which is a story in and of itself.  You can find it for sale here through Poppyswap, a fun website with an emphasis on herbs.  Valentines day was coming up, and I wanted something really special to share with my sweetie, who as I have said is the one who first taught me how to make tinctures.  It would need to be tasty, fun, effective, and safe (which it is, and I am hearing reports back from others who agree!)  I spent days poring over my herbal books, looking up articles, and knitting my brow until finally I came up with the recipe.  And I was running out of time!  Somewhere in my travels I came across this very helpful (but rather long, be forewarned) video and worksheet from Wintergreen Botanicals and the pieces started falling into place.  If you’re short on time, I’ll summarize:

Large perc cone


Dry, powdered herb, at least 2 oz for a small percolation cone, at least 4 oz for a large cone

Percolation cone, which can be made if you have steady hands (thanks hubby!) by cutting the base off of a Perrier bottle, large or small.  You will also want to grind the sharp edges off with a dremel or glass appropriate sandpaper.  Save the cap, you’ll need it.

Regular mouth canning jar

2 coffee filters

So to begin, since I suck at math (it’s the only thing Barbie and I see eye to eye on), I will refer you to the above worksheet to work out all you genius calculations so you know how much menstruum (alcohol) you will need and such.  Moisten your herbs with a small amount of alcohol until it is the texture of damp sand, and let it sit overnight.  The next day, you take your damp herb and pack it into the cone, which you have lined with a small cone of coffee filter paper to keep it from rushing out the bottom.  Divide the herb into three additions, packing gently at first, then more firmly, and the final packing fairly firmly with a tamper of some kind, a tincture bottle works nicely.  You want to be sure that the level of the herb is even and flat.  Once it’s all packed you top it off with another piece of filter paper, and top it off with a clean flat stone or something to keep the alcohol from pushing aside your carefully packed herb.  Take the cap off the cone, carefully pour some alcohol over the top, and place the perc cone in the mouth of the canning jar.  If you’ve done it right, eventually the alcohol will come out the bottom, now you put the cap back on.  It might take a minute or two to start dripping.  You should be able to see the fluid descending in an even, uniform band through the herb.  Adjust the tightness of the cap until your drip rate matches the tempo of “Stars and Stripes Forever” (according to the brilliant Michael Moore, one of my favorite herbalists and the man many credit with reviving the lost art of percolation)  Now you wait for a matter of hours, NOT  weeks or months!  Unless it doesn’t work, in which case you just dump the whole mess into a jar and do your tincture the old fashioned way, maceration 🙂
Keep checking back on my Poppyswap page, where I will be adding new tinctures in the upcoming weeks!


Tincture time!

If you know me, you have probably heard me yammering on and on about the wonders of tinctures. Perhaps you don’t know me, and you are asking “what is a tincture”? It is simply an alcoholic extract of a natural material. Years ago, the desire to learn more about herbal medicine and tincturing is what lead me to my husband. I was a newcomer to the extremely groovy college town of Arcata, California and though I lacked the funding to actually attend the college, I was determined to continue my education in more of a self-taught way. A friend of mine introduced me to him when I asked if he knew anyone who could teach me about herbalism and wildcrafting, and meeting him has sent me down an intriguing and “less traveled” path which I have never regretting taking! Herbal medicine requires a sort of responsibility that conventional medicine doesn’t seem to ask of you, which can be intimidating at first, but is really empowering and becomes a way of life. While I have been making herbal tinctures for years now, it is only recently that I discovered that tinctures have applications in the natural perfume world, through blogs such as erlithe and Roxana Illuminated What talented ladies! I would like to thank them right now for sharing so generously of their inspiration, it’s like a light bulb has been lit!  No more will I be completely limited to availability lists and suppliers, rather I can look to the material in the world around me to truly capture a moment in time.   The moment when the lemon balm is a buzz with hard working bees.  The moment when sweetly scented ethereal pink fluff  is drifting down from my mother in law’s mimosa tree.  For the time being all of these balmy moments will have to wait for winter to pass, so I am taking this chance to cook up some scent extending base note tinctures.  Today it was apricot, jasmine rice, and lightly toasted coconut.   I can attest to the delicousness of the coconut in particular!  The apricot is leaving an interesting faint sticky trail behind on my skin, which I am hoping is an indication that it will help the other scents in a blend adhere and persist
Now we wait, my least favorite part!

Year of the Horse

il_570xN.566147618_f67j I was never the kind of little girl to play house, with Barbies, or baby dolls so much. Rather I was most definitely a “horse girl.” You know the type, going all starry eyed at the thought of a nice long trail ride off to destinations unknown, just me and my cayuse. Gazing longingly at all the pretty horses scattered in the fields on a country drive. Unable to walk by one who may be standing with their head leaned over a rickety fence, without pausing to offer it a handful of grass from “the greener side”, and stroke its velvety coat.  Please forgive my nostalgic tendencies!

I have very fond memories of the wise, bombproof old mare named Hollywood who took me by the hand through some very difficult times. She was a chestnut quarter horse mare who in her day had been quite the star in the ring.  By the time I met her she had mellowed considerably, but retained a canniness and a confidence that was very reassuring to an insecure preteen whose home life was in fragments due to family illness.  Lifting myself onto her impossibly high back as she waited patiently, and breathing in her smell was a high point in the day. Yes, manure of course, but also oats, hay, musk, leather,and molasses. I love how a scent, like the fresh cut hay smell of the tonka beans I am working with now, has the ability to speak in the language of memory with such ease. Hollywood deserves her own scent blend, I do believe. This seems to be the perfect time to begin blending, with the recent arrival of the Chinese Year of the Horse. According to the tradition, the Year of the Horse brings with it an impetuous, adventurous, and lively energy. It is a time for decisive action.  Hold on to your hats, folks! Yeehaw! This blend brings together notes of fresh cut hay, herbal sagebrush, and animalic botanical musks. For the musk note, I relied primarily on labdanum, amyris, and patchouli.  Carrot seed  surprised me by how well it contributed to the picture, as I am more accustomed to utilizing it for it’s amazing skincare properties rather than its scent.   Clary sage can have a euphoric effect on some people, and has a sun-warmed dry grass fragrance to my nose.  I added a touch of cheerful clementine and sprightly peppermint to give the blend some “wings.”horse skull Two more ingredients which I was very excited to get a chance to use were my handmade tinctures of tonka bean and cleveland sage. I can’t tell you how much I love both of these totally unique scents! Tonka reminds me of many things: hay, and also notes of fine quality lavender and almond extract, or tart cherries. I used just a touch, so as to make this blend not too sweet and still accessible to the cowboys out there! Salvia clevelandii is native to California, a place I called home for many years. Its scent does bear some resemblance to the garden sage to which it is distantly related, but it is very much it’s own thing.  More resinous, less harsh, fuller and with some the edges rounded off…my favorite of the sage scents, or perhaps tied with salvia apiana, the white ceremonial sage variety.  Oh, and maybe pineapple sage too! Isn’t the salvia family wonderful? I really had a blast in the creation of this blend, and hope you will enjoy it.  It is a fairly masculine fragrance blend, but one I have really enjoyed wearing regardless!  I think anyone who has a thing for wide open spaces, sagebrush, and trusty steeds will as well.  Visit my Etsy shop to check it out!