Making Distillates at Home

Pot distillation has been around for a very long time and the oldest methods involved simmering plants in liquid and collecting the liquid that cooked off them which I refer to as the distillate.  Simple distillation apparatuses were discovered at both the Tepe Gawra (Mesopotamia 3500 BCE) the Mohenjo Daro (Indus Valley ca. 3000 BCE) excavation sites.

The Alexandrian perfumers’ guild (which was actually a group of early alchemists) was using simple alembics to distil floral essences beginning in the 1st century BCE.   There is actually a very interesting story that alchemists sometimes tell about their discovery of a malleable glass that has been lost to time.   In a 4th century manuscript written by Zosimus of Panapolis, he shares a pictures of their system. He is a good person to study if you are into alchemy and its history.  In his manuscripts he tells each of his students they must obtain an alembic and instructs them on how to use them. Continue reading “Making Distillates at Home”

Bread for Dressing or Stuffing

A few people wanted this recipe.  It’s the bread I made yesterday to dice up for stuffing.  I make it with strong broth and a lot of fresh herbs from the garden.  In other words, don’t eat it.  I mean I like it, but it’s seasoned strongly.  I would imagine most people would think it a bit much.


  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 packet dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups turkey or chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped sage
  • 1/3 cup chopped chives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 2-3 cups unbleached flour


  1. Combine lukewarm water, sugar and yeast in a glass container and let in proof (sit and bubble) for ten minutes.
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine the broth, olive oil, herbs, and salt then pour in the yeast mixture. This is important because you don’t want to pour the yeast directly on the salt. You can kill it.
  3. Add the bread flour until you can’t stir it any longer and then turn it on to the kneading board and knead the rest in. 
  4. Knead in the unbleached flour until it is smooth and elastic.
  5. Place dough in greased bowl, cover and let rise until it is doubled in bulk.
  6. Form into 2 loaves and place in greased loaf pans and let the loaves rise until doubled in bulk.
  7. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes until inner temperature of the bread reaches 190 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell loaf should make a hollow sound when you thump the bottom.

Historical Notes about Cranberries

I think that this information is probably going to surprise some people, but the way we use cranberries for sauces and fermented beverages is a very old practice from Northern Europe.

Vaccinium oxycoccus and Vaccinium microcarpus  are both native species in the British Isles and were used quite widely as food and medicine. The English called them fen berry or moor-berries. The Welsh called them llygaeron and Ceiros-y-waun. Clan Grant in Scotland wore Mùileag as their heraldic emblem into the 19th century.[1] In Ireland you also saw it referred to as monog (peat berry).[2]

Continue reading “Historical Notes about Cranberries”

Iowa City Herbalists Without Borders

As I have written, my great-grandmother was a midwife in a poverty-stricken rural community. Lay practitioners like her were once the backbone of communities. I have mad respect for them and the apprenticeship model of learning. Continue reading “Iowa City Herbalists Without Borders”

Historical Notes About Goldenrod

I wrote this article back in 2016, for Natural Herbal Living Magazine but I had to throw it up on the blog today because someone called goldenrod a weed and I felt like sticking up for one of my favorite fall ornamentals. I also wanted to share that you most likely aren’t allergic to goldenrod.  The pollen produced by goldenrod is quite large, heavy and sticky.  It is too heavy to become windblown and relies on insects to spread it.  It’s almost impossible for people to be exposed to the pollen aside from touching the plant. 

Whenever I think of goldenrod, I think of this poem by Clement Wood, that I found when writing my first monograph on the plant many years ago.

Coin of the Year
NOVEMBER, you old alchemist,
Who would have thought
You could turn the high arrogance of golden-rod To still plumes of silver?1

Today it seems odd to think of goldenrod as a plant of “high arrogance,” however thru the early part of the 20th century, our friend was held in much higher esteem. Continue reading “Historical Notes About Goldenrod”