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Herbal Mixtures Part 1


One of our main tenets here at FANtasy Decorating is that our world should reflect our interests and that the pieces of our world look their part. Furnishings should be both useful and ornamental.

An example is our interest in herbs and their uses. Herbal medicine is a skill set that we admire and we think it’s time has come again. We have made an effort to learn how to use herbs and have been rewarded by potions both helpful and tasty. With our busy schedules we don’t actually grow our own herbs but have found more than one great supplier for herbs, teas, and spices. (See our Resources page for great sources for herbs and equipment). That means we can get straight to the fun part and straight to the kitchen.

Many of the dried comestibles are bought by weight and come in plastic bags which are hard to re-seal. But we don’t leave our herbs, teas and spices in their store bought containers, especially not anything plastic.  NO PLASTIC is one of our mantras here at FANtasy Decorating. We transfer them to attractive glass jars with stoppers that seal tightly. (We’ve got a post JUST about bottles and jars! More about labels in an upcoming blog). Then we label our jars with antique style labels that convey the Latin name, common name, plant part and date of the contents. This lends a certain elegance and gravitas to our herbal pantry. Useful. Ornamental. Tasty!

Here in Part 1 (in alphabetical order) are some of the general methods of making herbal mixtures. 

Decoction: To extract compounds by chopping or mashing the botanical material and boiling it in water. The difference between this method and other methods is that it uses water and that the water is boiling. Then the plant solids are strained out and the useful liquid bottled for future use. See the Projects section for our projects making Hibiscus Syrup and Spiced Simple Syrup.

Distillation: The process of extracting compounds from a liquid base by successive evaporation and condensation. The material is boiled in water
and the steam travels through a tube to a separate container. When it condenses, it separates into its component oil and water. The oil that condenses from the distillation process is called an essential oil because it contains the essence of the plant from which it was derived. The water is called a hydrosol. See our Projects page for our favorite recipe for a Room Freshener Spray.

Expression: This is also called cold pressing and is just what it sounds like. Oils or other liquids are extracted by pressure and without heat. Citrus oils are usually cold pressed to preserve their essence.

Extraction: This is a more general term which refers to the removal of liquids or compounds from plant materials.The choice of using alcohol, water or oil depends on the part of the plant being used. Essential compounds might be present in the bud, the leaf, the flower, the seed, the bark or the root and occasionally more than one of these places. Different plants required different methods of extraction. See the Projects section for our project making Vanilla Extract.

Hydrosol: An essential water if you will, produced by distilling plant materials. Some hydrosols are the by-product of making essential oils. The best hydrosols however are the main product of the distillation process. Mountain Rose Herbs carries a nice selection of hydrosols.

Infusion: An extract of a herb or other plant material made by soaking the material in water, oil, or alcohol. Some plants are more effectively extracted by water, some by oil, and some by alcohol. In an infusion the liquid is not heated and time is the main agent used in the extraction. Visit our Projects page to see our project making Vanilla Vodka.

Percolation: To extract compounds by filtering water through them. Coffee is the most obvious example but the water does not necessarily need to be hot for the process to be considered percolation. The water leeches compounds out of the botanicals as it passes through them.

Simple: A syrup made of equal parts sugar and water and only one other ingredient. Many herbalists believe in “keeping it simple” and don’t use more than one herb at a time. Anything infused in sugar and water tastes good so get adventurous. See the Projects section for our projects making Hibiscus Simple Syrup and Spiced Simple Syrup.

Solution: A stable mixture of one or more substances in a liquid. A fancy way of saying something that is dissolved in a liquid.

Tea: A tea is a tisane of dried plants usually meaning a beverage drunk for pleasure. Even “herbal teas” are blended with taste being a large consideration in the mixture of herbs used. A tea is usually steeped for a shorter period than a tisane. See the Projects section for a couple of our favorite recipes for teas. We also discovered a great little shop, Penn Dutch Tea & Spice, in Fredericksburg, VA with a huge selection of teas and spices.

Tincture: An extract of a herb or other plant material made by soaking the material in alcohol. Vinegar is only rarely used as a substitute for alcohol. The plant material is put in a jar and a clear spirit such as vodka or pure grain alcohol is added. Then it is left in a cool dark place for about 2 to 6 weeks. Shake the jar every day or so for maximum effect. Then strain the solids out of the resulting liquid and store either in dark glass or a dark place. See the Projects section for our Stevia Tincture project.

Tisane: An infusion of dried plants usually used for it’s medicinal properties. See the Projects section for a few recipes for Herbal “Tea” tisanes.

Just as a matter of interest here are some other terms:

Elixer: a mixture of water and alcohol containing an infusion of healing or medicinal botanicals. This is an old word with magical connotations. Sounds like cough syrup to me.

Potion: From the Latin “potio” or drink. A liquid that is either magical or poison or both.

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