My Great Big Herbal Adventure-Day Two

Arizona plants, mountains, and sky

You can read more about how a stay-at-home crunchy mom from Illinois came to find herself on a great big herbal adventure in Arizona and my first day here. Now that you’re here, let’s move onto the story of day #2.

Our classroom for the day

Our classroom for the day

Day number two my friend and I grabbed a quick breakfast at the motel and headed back to the hot springs reserve for what was to be essential oil day. It was amazing. Michael, our teacher, set up three steam distillation stills and talked us through the process of assembling, using, cleaning, and storing an essential oil still.

Still assembly-many bits & pieces

Still assembly-many bits & pieces

Michael had collected a host of medicinal plants in his home state of New Mexico just prior to driving in for the class, and fresh yerba mansa was dug from the stand adjascent to the classroom that morning. The boxes of plants had been perfuming the classroom as he spoke, and now they were ready for their big moment.

Watching, learning, and processing osha root

Watching, learning, and processing osha root

As a group we chopped up osha root, juniper, yerba mansa root and leaves, elephant tree, and white sage.

Processing yerba mansa to make whole plant essential oil

Processing yerba mansa to make whole plant essential oil

We then split into groups and got to work setting up our stills, packing the flasks with plant material, and watching the steam and cold water work together to extract and collect the essential oils from the plants.

Osha root in the bioflask

Osha root in the bioflask

Me attempting to use my hand as a level as we prepare for juniper essential oil

Me attempting to use my hand as a level as we prepare for juniper essential oil

For hours, we sat in our classroom while the oils were extracting, inhaling the scent of these amazing desert plants. We spent that time discussing the properties of the plants that we were working with, as well as learning about safe, responsible use of essential oils to support healing.

Juniper, yerba mansa, and osha filling the air with their powerful scent

Juniper, yerba mansa, and osha filling the air with their powerful scent

We were encouraged to drink plenty of water and use milk thistle seed glycerite to support our liver as we were inhaling, rubbing on, and otherwise absorbing so much of these powerful aromatics hour after hour. We also took an extended break mid-day to eat some lunch, soak in the hot springs, hike, and responsibly gather plants from around the reserve area.

Gathering chaparral, fresh air, and sunshine during the lunch break

Gathering chaparral, fresh air, and sunshine during the lunch break

After lunch, we returned to the classroom to watch the essential oils be separated from the residual water from the distillation process (hydrosol).

Dark band of yerba mansa essential oil collecting in the separator. Can you see it?

Dark band of yerba mansa essential oil collecting in the separator. Can you see it?

We then got to see a demonstration from a former student of Michael’s who had been invited to show us her process of making a medicinal herbal lotion using the yerba mansa essential oil and hydrosol that we had just made. We all received precious small jars of the lotion as well as jars of osha hydrosol. We were all also given 8 oz. glass jars to pack with the remaining plant material of our choosing and organic alcohol so that we could begin to create tinctures that we could bring back home.

Pinon pine & organic alcohol: the humble beginnings of a tincture before the alchemy sets in.

Pinon pine & organic alcohol: the humble beginnings of a tincture before the alchemy sets in.

Our final DIY project of the day was a healing oil that we were able to custom create using Michael’s proprietary oil blend and the osha, yerba mansa, elephant tree and white sage essential oils that we had created earlier. It was a wonderful way to watch, make, and blend a variety of herbal products that we could begin to put to use as soon as we returned home.

Sampling of the end products of "Essential Oil Day"

Sampling of the end products of “Essential Oil Day”

The evening wound down with collective pizza making in the brick oven on-site and long soaks in the hot springs.

Pizza making: when no rolling pin appears, grab a beer.

Pizza making: when no rolling pin appears, grab a beer.

Pizza oven firing away at sunset

Pizza oven firing away at sunset

Students grab a restorative soak in the large hot springs pool before nightfall

Students grab a restorative soak in the large hot springs pool before nightfall

After emerging restored and relaxed from the hot springs pool, we made our way back to our casita. That night our sleep was intermittently interrupted by the sound of wild animals howling outside our window, and mice scurrying around our mattresses (Well, it may have just been one mouse. We named him Cattywampus). We awoke ready for another day of herbal field study.

I will continue with day three of my herbal adventure in Part 3.

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