Make your own Herbal Wines

July 18, 2011

herb Infused wine
Herbal wines
date back thousands of years. Egyptian wine jars have been found with residues of herbs and resins. It makes sense, as we now know that alcohol breaks down the medicinal constituents of plants, making it more bio-available to the body. That’s why we make alcohol extracts as herbal tinctures to deliver botanical chemicals to our body. The famous 12th century German mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, recommended herbal wines such as lungwort wine for emphysema, honey-parsley wine for heart pain, and unsweetened lavender wine for congested liver.

Bitters infused in alcohol have been used in Europe for several hundred years. They usually contain bitter herbs that help with digestion by stimulating bile juices. Bitters have also been traditioanlly added to beer for the same reason.  Angostura Bitters are a famous member of this category and are well-used in hundres of cocktails for a splash of complexity, and to this day only 5 people in the world know the well-kept secret of the herbs used in this special recipe. Though this mexture was hoped to help soldiers in WWI suffering from severe fevers and digestive disorders, it now serves to enliven many of our most special happy hour drinks today. Bitters are usually made with alcohols other than wines, but it might be fun to experiment with bitter herbs when making a more medicinal wine.

There are lots of super tastey concoctions that can be made in your own kitchen. I often make herbal simple syrups to add to gin or vodka drinks for something herbaceous, but it’s really fun to go directly to the source and create an alcoholic beverage that is lively and compex all on its own! This is why going the herbal wine route is worthwhile. Most people can afford a decent white or red wine to start with.

Making Herbal Wines

1. Place Herbs in a bottle (1 oz herbs to 1 pint wine)
2. Pour wine over herbs to fill the bottle (generally a ‘sweeter’ wine w/ about 12% alcohol)
3. Cap tightly and shake well
4. Store in a cool, dark place
5. Shake well every day for 2 weeks
6. Strain herbs.
7. Add sugar or honey to taste (optional), particularly for liqueurs
8. Some liqueurs need maturation time, in which case you might wait a month or more.
NOTE: herbal wines should last about a year. Herbal liqueurs may last longer.

rose infused vodka Rose Petal Wine
(Medicinal Uses: for headaches, heart disease, stomach pain & fever)
600 g rose petals (Rugosa preferred), dried and unsprayed
10 liters combination grape juice and young wine OR all young wine

1. Tie rose petals in a small bag & place in a container with the liquids
2. Infuse in a dark place (covered) for 3 months
3. Filter, pour into a sterilized bottle or jar and store again.

Ref: adapted from an article in The Herb Quarterly by Barbara MacPherson.


Make your own fresh herb tincture

April 16, 2011

I have long wanted to include some ‘practical’ instruction in my blog for the all important preparations that all herbalists and family healers use on a regular basis. This post will be devoted to a simple alcohol extract of a botanical, called a “tincture”. The extracting can actually be done with cider vinegar or glycerin, alternatively, though alcohol does work best. It is important to note that some herbs are better taken as infusions or decoctions, particularly if the vitamin content is what one is after (i.e. nettles).  It is also important to note that some herbs are absolutely best taken as a *fresh* herb tincture rather than a *dried* herb tincture. This post is for making tinctures from *fresh* herbs. Some examples of herbs that should be tinctured fresh are turmeric rhizome, ginger rhizome, St. John’s wort, Milky oat tops, and skullcap. Other herbs I prefer to tincture fresh are motherwort and tulsi.

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Oat Tops in the Milky Stage

Step 1:

Organize the necessary container for tincturing. It should be big enough to hold all the herb you would like to tincture. There should not be a lot of excess room in the jar, however.

Jar and herbs for tincturing

Step 2:

Put the herbs in a glass jar. I have a gallon sized glass jar here and I’m using fresh oat tops in the milky stage, shipped to me from Pacific Botanicals organic farm in Oregon.

pouring grain alcohol onto the herbs

Step 3:

After the herbs are in the jar, pour 95% (190 proof) grain alcohol over the fresh herbs. The percentage of alcohol you use is probably the most important part of tincturing aside from the quality of the herbs used. The percentage of alcohol for fresh herbs shouldn’t dip below 50% or the tincture will probably spoil. Because fresh herbs contain a lot of water already, you can assume that just by using fresh herb, you’ll be diluting the % of alcohol in the preparation. So, if you use (40%) 80 proof vodka, for instance, you may end up with a tincture that is only 20% alcohol, and that tincture would certainly spoil. Many herbalists use 100 proof (50%) vodka and have success, even with fresh herbs. I prefer to use a higher proof for fresh. Using 100 proof (50%) vodka for *dried* herbs is certainly okay, though more complicated formulas are used by professional herbalists.  Keep in mind that some herbs require glycerin at about 10%, including milk thistle seed.

So, you pour the alcohol over the herbs and fill the jar to the top. Leave about 1/2 – 1 inch between the alcohol and the rim of the jar. Try to make sure all of the herbs are under the liquid.

tinctured oat tops
Step 4:

Use a chopstick or spoon to press the herb down and stir in order to release any air bubbles that may be trapped in the jar.

Step 5:

Cap the jar. I often like to put a piece of wax paper between the rim and lid so that the lid doesn’t ‘stick’ to the jar. It’s not that this is really a problem, because you can run it under hot water, but it just makes it easier.

Step 6:

Label the jar with the herb, date, and percentage of alcohol. Store in a cool/dark place and allow to do its tincturing  magic for 4 – 6 weeks. You can really leave it for longer if you don’t get to it in that time frame.  I have left herbs in 180 proof alcohol for a *year* and it doesn’t go bad because of the high alcohol content. Sometimes I do up to 3 gallons at a time, so I don’t always decant everything right away!

Step 7:

When you decant, strain the herbs out and compost them after squeezing the alcohol out of them. You can wring out the herbs with a thin, clean dishcloth or cheesecloth. There are also professional herb presses that are available for just this purpose. The herbs will often become quite dessicated, actually, so sometimes it is incredibly easy to extract as much alcohol as you are going to!

Be sure to label your decanted tinctures with the Date and the Herb, as well as the alcohol used. Keep in mind that the % of alcohol is no longer 95%!!! Though it’s not easy to exactly determine, it’s probably closer to 50%, depending on the herb used.

Resources:

Gladstar, Rosemary, Herbal Healing for Women, 1993.
Weed, Susun, Healing Wise, 1989.
Tierra, Michael, The Way of Herbs 1998
Hoffman, David, Medical Herbalism, 2003.
Tilgner, Sharol, Herbal Medicine, 1999.

Good luck with your first tincture. Feel free to comment below if you have questions!
My tinctures can be found on my Etsy site.


Herbal Remedies Tip #8 – Herbal Hangover Relief

January 7, 2010

You might have needed this post most on New Year’s Day (though I actually went to bed at 11:50 if that tells you how exciting the eve of 2010 was for me this year), but hey – better late than never. Now, my love of nutrition and care of the body prompts me to admonish, “look now, people – metabolic toxins (i.e. alcohol) is not good for the body, and you know it!”, but let’s be fair. There are times when I get into a really good bottle of wine and can’t be stopped. I also lived in Ireland off and on for at least a year and a half, so I have sympathy for the human experience of the fabled hangover.

Hangovers, as most know, feel like a combination of headache, sometimes nausea, fuzzy head, maybe a bit of depression, certainly a lot of lethargy. Most of these are connected to an ‘overloaded’ liver, the organ responsible for processing the metabolic toxins from alcohol. Helping a hangover usually includes helping your liver. Bitter herbs stimulate the liver to release bile, aiding digestion and helping to detoxify the poor, overtaxed organ. You might try drinking some water with freshly squeezed lemon before bed and when you wake up in the morning to help the liver.

Morning-After Tea (no, not morning after *that*, just morning after lots of drink
1 part Vervain (bitter herb)
1 part Lavender (relaxing, calming, aids digesting, analgesic (pain relief)
1/2 part white willow bark (analgesic w/ similar compounds to asprin)
1/2 part burdock root (bitter root, liver tonic, nutritive)
* each “part” can be a tsp or 1 oz depending on how much of a blend you want to make. Try it as a cup first, though
Add 1 pint (2.5 cups) boiling water to a 2 tsp and steep (covered!) for a minimum of 10 min. Strain and sweeten with honey and/or add lemon if desired. Sip throughout the day until you start to feel better. It is a little bitter, but hey – you did it to your liver, after all, and this is what you need now!


Herbal Remedies Tip #6 – Herbal Mouthwash for Healthy Gums

November 17, 2009

Blue bottles for storing mouthwash I’m kind of on a roll here with natural mouth care, so why stop now? Personally, I prefer not to use alcohol-based mouth washes that permeate the market and either make my own, or use ‘more natural’ mouthwashes such as those made by Tom’s of Maine. Happily however, recipes abound for making your own mouthwashes. You can use witch hazel in mouth wash blends too, but try to obtain the natural witch hazel distillate rather than commercial witch hazel made with ethyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

In the recipe below, peppermint and anise seed freshen breath.  Myrrh tincture/extract helps strengthen the gums, and is also antiseptic and also mildly preservative.  The tincture/extract may be made with grain alcohol (but a very small amount in the recipe) or vinegar.

 

Recipe #1:

1 cup boiling water
2 tsp dried peppermint
1 tsp anise seed
1/2 tsp myrrh tincture

Pour the boiling water over the peppermint and anise seed. Cover and steep until cool. Strain and add the myrrh. Store the mouthwash in a bottle and shake before using. This will keep for a week or so if stored in the refrigerator.

 

Witch Hazel

Witch Hazel

Recipe #2:

  This recipe avoids even an alcohol extract in favor of sage-infused vinegar. To infuse, simply fill a small jar with sage, fill with warmed apple cider vinegar, and allow to steep for 2-6 weeks. Alternatively, you could heat-infuse the herb in a non-metal (non-reactive pot) and allow to infuse (so that vapors are coming off of the vinegar), covered, for 30 min-1 hour.  Again, try to btain the natural witch hazel distillate rather than commercial witch hazel made with ethyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol).

1 cup witch hazel distillate
1/2 tsp sage-infused vinegar
1 tsp peppermint
1 tsp spearmint

Recipe #3:

1 cup water
1 tsp vegetable glycerin
1 tsp aloe vera juice (ingestible!)
6 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix the ingredients together and store in a covered container, using within a few days. Peppermint essential oil helps fight odor-causing bacteria, and aloe soothes gums

REF: Laurel Vukovic


Rose Infused Vodka: Now what would you like to try?

June 17, 2009

infused_rose_2I’ve been having fun lately infusing fresh herbs into various liquors, though I tend to lean towards the fresh, neutral taste of vodka, which takes on the aromatic qualities of various herbs just beautifully.

This photo depicts vodka infused with organic rose petals. I think I’ll take this with me to Montreal this week for a little bit of cocktail experimenting. Maybe a bit of egg white, muddled lavender, and a hint of citrus (lemon? orange?).

In light of recent posts about Herbal Cocktails and how to infuse your own liquors, what infusions would you like to try or what results have you found?

Here are some other ideas.

1. Plum & rose petal in white wine or vodka
2. Fresh lemongrass & ginger root in Sake
3. Chamomile & Lemon Balm in Gin, Vodka, or unoaked Brandy
4. Lemon Verbena in Vodka or Gin
5. Lavender (a pinch) in Vodka, Gin, or unoaked Brandy
6. Try lavender w/ Lime or Orange
7. Peach & Lemon Balm in Vodka

Keep in mind that if you include fresh fruit like raspberry, cherries, peach, apricot, or plums, the infused liquor may not keep as long, and you might want to keep the (strained) liquor in the fridge for a longer shelf life. Try adding a splash of flavored liquors such as orange liqueur (Cointreau) or raspberry flavored liqueur (Chambord) for additional flavor and complexity. Now you just have to let me know how your experiments turn out!

P.S. here’s a fun post about various liquors by the Cordoroy Ninja


Herbally Infused Liquors for a Delightful Summer Treat

May 19, 2009

infused_vinegar_alcohol_2I’m a lucky gal – in my ‘real job’, I am about to take on a new research assistant, and lo and behold, she’s a top class bartender by night! We got to discussing the special world of mixology and she mentioned a local bar known for their use of herbal tinctures and infusions in fine vodkas and other drinkable liquors. What a great idea! I did make a wee visit to said establishment and had to chuckle when I saw a mention of an herbal ‘liniment’ on their drink list (a liniment is used topically for various conditions, rather than internally as a medicinal extract). That said, my local mixologists are not the only herbal cocktails gaining attention. Savvy bartenders nationwide are experimenting in the herb garden for new, unusual, and often delightful new cocktails.

Happily, we don’t have to depend on fancy bars for fun herbally-infused beverages. We can all have herbal mixology fun in our own kitchens. Much like making a simple herbal vinegar, herbally-infused alcohol is a simple process.

Step 1: Choose your beverage and the desired herbs. Vodka is a good choice because it has clean, smooth finish that allows the herb to shine through. Gin provides an interesting dimension, and brandy, the choice of many herbalists, is an often-used vehicle for medicinal herbs. Aromatic, flavorful herbs are the best to begin your experiments: ginger root, dill, basil, cardamom, lavender, rosemary, bay leaf, and elderberries would all be fun choices. Use only one herb per infusion so that you don’t muddle the flavor and so you are able to experiment with each new flavor independently.

Step 2: Wash your herbs and pat dry to remove excess water. Roughly chop the herbs and place in clean, glass container. Pour alcohol over herbs and allow to steep in a cool, dark place for 1-4 weeks. Strain the herbs out and replace with a fresh sprig for a nice visual effect, especially if giving as a gift. A container with a rubber, sealed top is a great choice for storing your new herbal extract.

Step 3: Experiment away! Try adding the froth of whipped egg white, a hint of berry or ginger juice for an extra splash of flavor and color, or a touch of citrus for a lovely fresh finish. There are plenty of drink recipes out there in culinary land to get your started. Just be sure that in whatever herbal coctail you concoct, you allow the qualities of your chosen herbs to shine through and make themselves (and all their loveliness) known!

infused_vinegar_alcohol_4


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