What fun we had today! No, very serious stuff, but fun too…
Today marked our first attempt at true making herbal remedies – the beginnings of our own green pharmacy. Admittedly we started with the very simplest form: the art of mixing and matching 3 ingredients to create an ointment, salve or balm.
Catherine’s table was laden with objects fit for purpose: a 1940’s camp stove, electric ring, glass percolator, bain-marie, sieves, jugs, spatulas and the all-important pestle and mortar - mortar deriving from the Latin mortarium, meaning "receptacle for pounding” and pestle from pestillum, meaning "pounder" – the ancient symbols of the Apothecary.
On the far side of the table were the ‘green’ ingredients, or in this case the dirty ingredients; knarly, mud-caked roots of Alkanet and Comfrey plants, recently tugged from their earthly abode.
Before wipping out our pen knives and graters, we learnt the basics of plant identity for the Boraginaceae family. These are ‘Vulnary’ herbs – used to help wounds heal, many with antiseptic and anti inflammatory properties too. All are mucilaginous (look it up) and occlusive which allows them to impart their therapeutic properties to the integument… But, there are a lot of plants out there masquerading as Alkanets so good to be vigilant, and watch out for these close family friends:
- English or Green Alkanet – Pentaglottis sempervierns
- False Alkanet - Anchuse Barrelieri
- Bastard Alkanet – Lithospermum arvense
- Or these downright imposters:
- Viper’s Bugloss – Echium vulgare
- Forget-Me-Not – Myosotis sps
Because what you want is this - Alkanna Tinctura – True Alkanet although we will let Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) and Borage (Borage officinalis) join the inner circle of friends.
Back to work. We washed, scrapped, dug, chopped and grated our way through the root piles and then put our precious scrapings into jars and filled them with oil. Oils are a whole other subject which we just touched on (but will no doubt go back to).
Our choice was of Sweet Almond oil, Calendula oil, Olive oil or Rose Hip oil to steep our roots in – each providing a different result. Following the ‘quick’ preparation method, instead of leaving our jars on a sunny window sill for 3 weeks (a bit hard to find in
in November…) we are heating them through in a bain-marie. 20 mins later we removed the herbal element, drained the oil into clean jars and added the ointment maker – beeswax (at this point the oil is a liniment). Scotland
We were treated to the opportunity to extract pure beeswax from the comb. Melted and re-melted, skimmed and scraped, this proved to be a beautiful, pliable substance of wonderful fragrance and texture.
So, beeswax went into the jars (2-3 tsps per half a honey jar) and was allowed to melt slowly whilst we selected our essences. The choice was extravagant; from lavender and rose to juniper, black pepper and some venomous smelling others. Our olfactory senses were overwhelmed and an element of risk and chaos ensued. But once added to the cooled mixtures, everything settled down and slowly cooled into soft yellowy green ointments. A triumph all round!
Our last lesson of the day was in making a Marshmallow Root & Hawthorn Berry fruit leather, a mellifluous concoction of marshmallow root water, berries, cinnamon, sugar and lime juice cooked, whizzed and now hopefully drying to a chewy treat in Catherine’s oven…Yumm.
Books to buy: The Herbal Medicine Makers Manual - a Home Manual by James Green - (a Californian working in
San Diego and , or so Google tells me…) Sonoma