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What I Made This Month: May ’16

My medicine-making efforts for May were more modest than those in April, partly because I was sidelined for about two weeks after a back pain flareup and partly due to the ongoing transition from spring to summer plants.

But after such a busy April it was nice to have a bit of a breather on the medicine-making front. The springtime herbs faded in the heat, and the summer herbs are just starting to come into season, so I didn’t really miss out on much due to my physical problems. I spent some time this month working on some glycerites–extracts made with vegetable glycerin rather than alcohol. I haven’t made very many of them in the past so my technique needs some work, but I happened to get my hands on a gallon of glycerin so I figured I would try and use it up. Glycerin is incredibly thick and sticky compared to alcohol, so what works for me when I’m making tinctures doesn’t quite translate to making glycerites. Since I’m not invested in the alcohol-free nature of a pure glycerite (to this point I’ve mostly used them as flavoring agents in tincture blends for clients), I’ve been adding some alcohol to loosen the menstruum up and extend the shelf life a bit. I’ll probably keep making them until I use up my current stock of glycerin and then see how useful they prove to be before I invest in more.

 

Tinctures, Fresh

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica): Unopened buds, wildcrafted. Measured method (1:2, 75% EtOH). Japanese honeysuckle is considered an exotic invasive here in the Southeast and I pull it out where I find it in the woods, but the plants that grow in the open I use for medicine. As a Western herbalist I tend to gravitate towards mostly Western herbs, but though Japanese honeysuckle originally hails from the Traditional Chinese Medicine materia medica, it’s now a fixture here and I figure I should use it–after all, what is growing around you is usually what you need. Japanese honeysuckle clears heat, to use the TCM parlance, which means that it’s helpful for hot, inflamed conditions like viral infections. I’ve most often had cause to use it for respiratory infections, but it can also be used for skin infections and digestive disorders. Many Western herbalists collect and tincture both the opened and unopened flowers, but it seems that in TCM the unopened buds are preferred. (I wish I could remember which of my teachers originally said this, but there is a mention of this in Timothy Lee Scott’s Invasive Plant Medicine.) In the past I’ve used both opened and unopened flowers, but this year I made a special effort to collect only the buds. It’ll be interesting to compare it to the past tincture and note the differences, if any.

 

Glycerites, Fresh

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Leaves, cultivated. Measured method (1:4, 50% gly, 25% H2O, 25% EtOH). Lemon balm was my very first plant ally, and I’m excited to sample this glycerite when it’s ready. Lemon balm is a wonderful nervine herb that’s sweet and uplifting–I expect that I’ll probably take this glycerite as a simple because it’s sure to taste amazing.

Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum): Leaves and flowers, cultivated. Measured method (1:4, 70% gly, 30% EtOH). Anise hyssop is an underappreciated mint family member that’s native to North America–it’s a wonderful insectary plant but it’s also a medicinal herb I’m getting to know better. I started growing it to dry for teas, but I’ve been reading up on anise hyssop’s uses as an expectorant and antimicrobial in respiratory infections.

Red Bergamot (Monarda didyma): Leaves, cultivated. Measured method (1:4, 70% gly, 30% EtOH). Red bergamot is another native plant that isn’t featured in many books but which I’ve been trying to get to know better. I think it’s David Winston who says that red bergamot was the variety of Monarda preferred by the Cherokee, while tribes in other parts of the country preferred wild bergamot. I’m growing both types in order to compare them, and red bergamot definitely has a different flavor than the wild, but I’m still experimenting. Much like anise hyssop, red bergamot is used for respiratory complaints, and it also has some nervine qualities.

 

Infused Oils

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): Fresh wilted flowers, cultivated. Continuous heat in certified organic EVOO. Unlike many people, I absolutely love the smell of both valerian root and flower. I started infusing the flowers in oil a few years ago for use in my dreaming balm–it’s amazing how much the oil picks up the fragrance. I’m hoping to try the oil out in a muscle rub blend as well–valerian root is an antispasmodic, used for sore muscles and muscle spasm, so I’m curious if the flowers might be used the same way.

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica): Fresh wilted flowers, wildcrafted. Continuous heat in certified organic jojoba oil. This is pleasure medicine, plain and simple. The oil takes on a bit of the delicate fragrance of the blossoms, but it’s somewhat short-lived so I only infuse about a pint a year to ensure I use it all up in a timely fashion. I tend to use this oil in the aforementioned dreaming balm and in bath oils, where the jojoba oil is wonderfully nourishing to the skin.

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