Thursday, May 5, 2011
Posted by Kate at 5:09 PM
Events around the homestead are running far ahead of posting, as is so often the case in spring. A lot has been going on what with the installation a new package of Italian honey bees, and the addition of two Cuckoo Marans hens to our tiny backyard flock. (Yes, I know that Cuckoo Marans sounds like a stripper's name, but it's a breed of chicken, trust me.) Add more transplanted stinging nettles, and ramps, and rootstock, plus potatoes still to be planted, and it's a bit of a whirlwind. Blog-worthy stuff seems to just be slipping right past me these days, so I decided to seize upon one of them and just get a post out already.
Learning more about herbal medicine made my official list of goals for this year. Last year I planted a good selection of the more widely available medicinal herbs. Over the winter I picked up a few titles on the subject and dipped into them from time to time. And finally today I've made my first effort towards creating a medicinal tincture. I'm really hoping I just picked one of the more difficult ones, because it was rather a tedious chore: valerian root. I planted three valerian plants last year, and spring of the second year is the latest time to harvest the roots. I could only bear to dig one of them up; I'm hoping the other two will set seed and propagate themselves so I can harvest some of those next year. You see, to make a tincture from the root of the plant is to kill that plant. That's hard for me. Beets, carrots, parsnips and turnips are one thing, but perennials are another.
That's one excuse anyway. An equally good excuse would be that valerian roots are an absolute pain to clean. Here's a picture of what it looked like after 20 minutes of hosing off outside, before I tackled the rest of the cleaning inside. It's much like being hairdresser to a sheepdog. A very dirty and tractable sheepdog. The digging took only a couple minutes. The cleaning took at least an hour. Other medicinal tinctures are going to have to be less work if they're going to get made. Fortunately, once the roots were clean enough to pass muster with me, there was very little else to it. I simply cut them up with kitchen shears, packed them very tightly into a clean canning jar, and poured over enough 80 proof vodka to cover. If I'd had 100 proof vodka on hand, I would have used that.
For the next several weeks the tincture will stay in a kitchen cabinet where I'll see it and remember to shake it every other day or so. After that it'll be strained and stored in the pantry where it will keep forever, or until it's used up. We'll see how diligent I am about making use of all the other medicinal herbs we've got around here. If it can be justified, eventually it may make sense to stock up on a case or two of 100 proof. One is inevitably drawn to wonder if it's the herb in the herbal tinctures which lends the efficacy, or is it the alcohol itself? Valerian is known as a powerful sedative, but for a lightweight like myself, so is vodka.
Valerian root has a pronounced smell which some people apparently find extremely unpleasant. I sort of like it. It's strong but not overpowering. I would describe it as somewhere between mossy forest and licorice. My cat found the scent of it on my fingers incredibly fascinating just after I finished making the tincture. I don't think this will be a tincture I've got to hold my nose to take. At least I hope not.
Oh, and if you're an herbal medicine whiz and feel compelled to tell me I was too late with harvesting my valerian root, please save it. Tell me in a month or so, if you must. Today the effort is just too fresh in my mind to learn that it was all wasted. On the other hand, if you're still an herbal medicine whiz and you have some nifty trick for cleaning valerian root, or any other herbal medicine tips you feel generous about, pipe right up.