Welcome to the new look Eldrum Tree blog, which I shall be updating much more often now that the internet is finally fixed! Now, to important matters…
Lately I acquired a new toy for my already overflowing kitchen, which is currently packed full of bunches and baskets of drying herbs – this time the new acquisition is a gorgeously shaped copper alembic, one of a range now being made in the style of the traditional onion alembics used by the alchemists of old. I love it, and wasted no time at all getting to grips with it!
First up was a go with some very old bay leaves which I had decided to compost anyway. The little copper pot on my alembic is deceptively large – it fits up to 1.5 litres of water and as many herbs as you can pack in, and the bay leaves just kept getting packed in! I only added a pint of water to this first batch as I was too excited to just do a run through of plain water for the first time, but just HAD to have a go with some aromatic herbs. After some digging, I found the suggestion to mix flour and a small amount of water into a basic dough paste in order to seal the joins in the equipment. The usual kind of flour used is rye, which I don’t have, but I found some rather old stone ground wholemeal flour which is no longer usable for bread. It worked perfectly, and packed around the seal at the top of the boiling pot where it joins into the pipe and also around the pipe where it attaches to the receiving pot, it soon set solid and gave a great seal. This stops you losing too much aromatic oils in steam that escapes, though I later found that this particular alembic has such a tight fit when you put the top on that it wasn’t a problem to miss the flour paste seal completely. The gas stove was turned on and we were good to go! Half an hour later, and lots of frantic swapping around of water to keep the cooling pot cold, we had nearly a pint of strongly aromatic bay hydrosol, which made the whole kitchen smell utterly delightful!
Next up was a go with some Clary Sage, which, now that it is in flower, is very strongly fragrant. I did a run through of plain water first to remove the scent of bay from the pot (which was still lingering very strongly!) Then I went out and plundered my Clary Sage. The flowers and leaves went into the pot, and the remaining stems were chopped up and laid out on trays to dry. I’m sure I’ll find a use for them later!
The gas camping stove is an absolute blessing for this kind of work, as it heats up fast and cools down just as quickly. We kept empty brewing demi johns handy for draining off the water in the cooling beaker on the right, as the pipes warmed up fast (copper being such an excellent conductor). The hot pipes kept bringing the coolant water up to boiling point, so we were kept very busy draining off the warm water and replacing with cool every few minutes. I suspect this is where having an extra bit of kit like a tap adaptor would be useful, but in this case we just used the water to water my poor wilting pots. Keep track of how much water you started off with so the pot doesn’t end up boiling dry. In this case I used a pint of filtered water in the pot, and got very nearly that amount of Clary Sage hydrosol in return! Not sure if this final picture shows it that well, but the resulting liquid was beautiful, like condensed moonlight!
Next time I have a go at this, I shall make rose geranium water, as I have a very leggy rose geranium that could do with trimming, and I shall also make peppermint water which should be great for sun burn and insect bites. Great fun, and if you have a good harvest of aromatic herbs in your garden, a worthwhile bit of kit to get! I’ve only got the second to smallest one in the range at the moment, and think this will do me very nicely for some time. Best of all, it looks gorgeous just waiting on top of the dispensary for me to use it again!
Next up – my first attempt at making a spagyric tincture! Watch this space – I’ll report back!