Bare Necessities: Tincturing

It’s the heat of what’s been a scorching day, the kind where one steps outside and within a few steps sweat begins to bead up around the hairline and next thing you know it’s in your eyebrows, and you’re glad to be wearing a skirt to wipe your face with.

I’m headed to a slope where the scent of yarrow is strong, mingling with red clover blossoms, ready to set up a tincture; see if there’s enough for oil as well.  The yarrow heads are full of tiny blooms, they remind me of honeycomb, and fine embroidery on smocked dresses with tightly packed together stitches in the profuse clusters.

I lose track of time marveling at the intricacy of yarrow when suddenly I hear crashing and am brought back from my reverie.  The sound comes from an ancient pine tree; standing resplendent at one corner of the pond, it guards bloodroot, boneset, and jewelweed, wards away goblins.  I walk toward the tree and see a big bear climbing down its trunk, leap to the ground then amble off toward the creek and woods, away from me.  I wonder, how long had it been in the tree, what was it doing there?  Maybe there’s a bee hive up in the branches somewhere?

We’ve had more honeybees this year than before; I’ve brushed up against them while picking roses.  Unlike bumble bees, who fly away at my approach, honey bees stay in the center of each rose, continuing their gathering while humming.  In the evening and at dusk, I’ll pick the petals from all the flowers they occupied by day and add them to the jar of rose tincture I’ve been working on for some days.  The petals quickly give up their color to the alcohol, turning almost white overnight.  Next morning more roses bloom from the tight buds, releasing their fragrance, and more honey bees return to their gatherings.  Honey bees, they create the honey that both bear and I love.  I wonder again whether there’s a bee hive up there, maybe the ancient pine is a bee tree.  Something to explore.

In the meantime I return to yarrow and gather flowers on their stalks, cut about six to eight inches from the tops, leaving the budding tops to open later.  For now there’s enough to tincture.  I visit the red clover blossoms and pluck their plump red heads one at a time, dropping them in my basket, checking before I pick that they have no brown nor hint of brown within them.  Next stop is the rosebushes, where I pick more flowers then go inside to the waiting jars.

I’ve already tinctured red clover blossoms, so I add these gems to the papers laid out on the dining table, where blossoms from yesterday and day before and the day before are drying.  I love my daily visits with red clover on the slopes or down the driveway, they motivate me to step out and wander.  Some days I’m by myself, other days there’s some one with me; the mood of the days spent foraging carry over into tincture and tea blends made with the sweet tips.

After the last blossom has been placed, I chop up the yarrow (flowers, stems, and leaves) and pack the jar full, pouring 100 proof vodka right up to the top.  I add the fresh rose petals to the jar of pink rose tincture, which are just enough to completely fill it.  I top off the jar, cap it, and write the date on the cap, then run a clean knife through the yarrow tincture, poking it here and there to release air and bubbles.

While I’m working, I notice the sauerkraut I had put up with red cabbages and nettles.  I test it and discover it’s done, so I pull out the cabbage leaves that were atop the kraut and top off with extra brine.  It’s ready to be refrigerated and eaten, it’s color reminds me of rose petals and rose buds.  Much like rose tincture, sauerkraut takes a while to become.  In the meantime, the yarrow tincture has settled some, so I top it again, right to the rim, cap it, write the date on the jar and label it Yarrow.

Yarrow is a favorite cold and fever plant, both as tea and tincture, in our family.  We also use it on cuts when there’s none growing fresh to chew and spit on the wound to slow and stop bleeding.  Yarrow infused oil goes into salves for its wound healing properties.

Red Clover in tincture is another cold and lymphatic ally for us, and we benefit from the nutritive nourishment offered by brewing tea with the dried blossoms in combination with other herbs.

And then, Rose, what a gift for the heart in need of uplifting!  Rose tincture improves digestion, soothing the mildly upset stomach (though for extreme indigestion and stomach pain leading to bloating, a tablespoon of Absinthe is magical). Rose tincture also helps with insomnia caused by sorrow, grief, and sadness; it soothes and eases in a way that feels loving which helps with gaining needed rest to make it through.  In combination with Motherwort tincture, menstrual cramping is reduced, and tension alleviated.  It also combines well with Red Clover tincture.

Unlike rose tincture, which takes me a while to craft since the rosebuds don’t all open at once, yarrow gives a flush of blooms that I can tincture the same day.  With the roses, and even calendula blossoms, I’ll fill their jars with daily pluckings, pack them down into the vodka where they’re submerged, and keep topping with more vodka and petals until the jars are full.  Then I’ll label with the date and set them away in a dark cupboard for a minimum of six weeks.

This is how I make most of my tinctures, using 100 proof vodka poured over a jar packed full of flowers, leaves, and stems, set up on a shelf in a dark cupboard for six weeks, sometimes months, before decanting.  I make sure to write the name of the plant and the date it was set up, along with any notations about moon phase or sign, on the lid or on a sticker before putting them away.

When tincturing dried roots, such as burdock, dandelion, elecampane, and even dried elderberry, I don’t fill the jars to the top.  The roots expand from absorbing almost all the liquid, as I discovered when once upon a time I had packed them to the top.  I ended up with very little tincture, miniscule really, in relation to how much alcohol I had poured in to begin with.  The roots had sucked up most of it and I couldn’t squeeze all of it back out.  So I learned to fill the jars about 1/3 full, which yields a quantity of tincture that makes me happy.

What I do now with the roots, elderberries, usnea, reishi, and turkey tails that get strained once a tincture is done is put them in a pot and make a deep decoction with them.  In the case of the mushrooms and usnea, I reduce the decoction and add it back to the tincture that they made, so as to have a double extraction, which between the two menstruums extracts the water soluble and alcohol soluble properties then combines them as a whole medicinal.  With the roots and elderberries, I’ll use them as part of the decoction that goes into making syrups, and yes this does mean I coordinate making syrup with when the tinctures are done and ready to be strained.

And now, a cooling breeze is coming in through the open windows.

Yarrow, Clover, and Rose have given.

Tinctures are made.

Sauerkraut is ready.

I saw Bear while foraging.

May be we were both foraging simultaneously.

May be there are honey bees in a hive in a bee tree with more yarrow days to set up oil and bundle up for drying.

For now, my heart feels made of honey and the breeze has touched rain.

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