Thursday, July 10, 2008

Making Herbal Extracts

It's Thursday, so it's time for another personal blog entry that's a change of pace from IT.

Every year in August, when I climb in Yosemite, I stay in an isolated riperian wilderness on the eastern escarpment of the Sierra, called Lundy Canyon.

At 7808 feet, the area around Lundy varies from a Sagebrush steppe to a sub-alpine zone. Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and White Sage (Salvia Apiana) have been used by Native Americans in the area for centuries as ceremonial smudge sticks and for "space clearing" - freshening their homes, their belongings and their bodies.

Taking a lead from their experience, I gather a few pounds of sagebrush every year, then make my own toiletries and scent diffusers for my home from the dried herb.

Here's how I do it.

First, I gather the sagebrush and dry it in the sun for transport home.

To make an herbal extract for aftershave/cologne, I remove the sagebrush florets from the stalks and place them in an 8 ounce Nalgene polyethylene container. I fill the container approximately one third full with sagebrush and then add 6 ounces of 100 proof Absolut Vodka, although any strong grain alcohol will work.

I completely cover the herbal material with alcohol. If you are using dried herbs you should add more alcohol over the next day or two as the dried herbs absorb and expand. A good ratio for dried material is about 1 part herb to 5 parts alcohol and with fresh material 1 part herb to 3 parts alcohol.

I close the lid tightly, shake well and place the mixture in a dark place for 4 weeks, shaking it again every few days.

The alcohol extracts the active constituents from the herbs. After 4 weeks, I strain the herbs in a sieve, lined with cheesecloth. I then pour the liquid into another Nalgene container and tightly squeeze the cheesecloth to extract the remaining liquid, since the saturated herbal material has the strongest concentration of active constituents. For aftershave/cologne I poor the liquid into 2 ounce spray bottles, which I use at home and on the road after a workout such as climbing or kayaking. The alcohol cools the skin and the sagebrush refreshes the body.

For my home, I make reed diffusers in much the same way. A natural reed contains 20 capillaries that can absorb liquid and slowly disperse the fragrance.

Instead of grain alcohol, I use a diffuser oil and place the sagebrush saturated oil in small glass bottles filled with reeds. I get a subtle "space clearing" effect in my home without using chemical or electrical air fresheners.

Other plant material such as cedar chips, juniper berries or bay leaves make great herbal extracts. Just as wearing black is my signature clothing, sagebrush is my signature scent. I hope you enjoy finding your own.
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