Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Self-medicating Recipes

Each year about this time, Professor Wendell Combest comes here from Shenandoah University in Virginia where he teaches pharmacology. He gives a 4-day workshop in how to concoct, decoct, distill and infuse, starting with foraging for plants and ending with a wide array of medicines to help with virtually anything that might go wrong with your body.

If you think the price of gasoline and food is getting high, have a look at the cost of your pre- scriptions. More importantly, ask yourself what you would do if you were not able to renew them, either for reasons of price, lack of insurance, or lack of availability.

Each year Del’s course becomes more important. After he heads back to Virginia, we are always planting new seeds to boost the medicinal plant range in our gardens. The example of Cuba is instructive. During the special period of the early 1990s, when stocks of cheap Eastern European generic drugs dried up, along with the whole import economy that Cuba had grown accustomed to, more than 8000 varieties of medicinal plants spring up in backyard gardens and window boxes in Havana. Roberto Perez, Roberto Sanchez, and other Cuban permaculturists and ecovillagers were partly responsible.

Today Del showed us how to make a cheap still to extract essential oils. Some plants are very delicate, their oils oxidize within hours of harvest, and they cannot be extracted other than by distillation.

Using a hotplate, a large sauce-pot, a pot-lid, a brick, a bowl, a jar, and ice, here is how Del extracted spearmint oil:

The brick was cleaned and wrapped in foil to not contaminate the spearmint. The pot is filled with water nearly to the top of the brick. The bowl sits on the brick. Fresh or dried spearmint leaves are added to the water and brought to a boil. The lid of the pot sits inverted on top, with the handle downward, into the pot. Ice is set into the upper side of the inverted lid. As the water boils, it carries the oils of spearmint in its steam. As that steam reaches the lid, the cold of the ice causes it to rapidly condense and travel in rivulets down to the handle, where it forms droplets and falls into the dish, perched directly below.

Every few minutes, the lid is lifted off, the bowl emptied into a clean jar, and sealed, then the bowl and lid are replaced, fresh spearmint and ice added, and the process repeats. In 30 minutes, we had filled a pint jar with a spearmint hydrosol. You could do the same with lavender, aniseed, rosewood, tea tree, bay, basil, and many other plants with antiseptic, diuretic, stimulant, sedative, immune stimulant, circulatory stimulant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic. bactericidal, expectorant, decongestant or other properties.

Del likes to use the hydrosol – the emulsion of oil and water — for most of his purposes, but if you needed to extract just the oil, you could siphon the water, which settles into a lower layer in the jar with a visible separation, up to the line of the separation.

Our library at the Institute has a list of medicinal oils and a list of common wild and domestic medicinal and food plants on our website. The appropriate technology library
also has Sixty Uses Of Baking Soda, Sixty Uses Of Vinegar, Herbs For Ailments, Old Time Cleaning Remedies, How To Make Soap, How To Make Candles, and loads of other tips for self-reliance and community re-skilling in uncertain times.

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