Flowers

There are relatively few flowers that are used on their own to make tinctures, but they count amongst some of the most important remedies.


Harvesting

Flowers should be harvested in the middle of a sunny day, preferably at least two days after any rainfall. There must not be any surface rainwater or dew on them and, whether taken in bud or fully open, should be free of blemishes, soil-splash, infections or infestations. In most cases the ideal is to harvest flowers when fully open (and pollinating); if time or opportunity is limited, it’s acceptable to include some that are half open, but never ones that are ‘blown’, i.e. starting to wilt, fade or drop.

Usually the whole flower is used, but sometimes the calyx is removed. In the case of Rose, only the petals are used, taking care to discard the calyx and stamens. When collecting Hawthorn flowers, a high proportion of unopened flower buds is recommended; usually these come away with one or two leaves attached, which should also be incorporated.

A few subjects (e.g. Limeflowers) have a single flowering, which may be very brief. Vigilance is needed to be ready to capture the moment. Most flowers used are repeat-flowering from anywhere between a couple of weeks and the whole summer. In these circumstances one can make up a litre or two of menstruum in advance and add to it every day or so until filled.

Preparation & maceration

Flowers should always be harvested in good, clean condition, though it’s as well to pick through them again carefully before using. Flowers should never be washed. Generally speaking flowers require no further preparation before macerating – but there is no harm in tearing by hand or food-processing if you wish, provided this is all done quickly – picked flowers wilt rapidly. As mentioned, it’s common to have a bucket or jar of menstruum prepared in advance to which flowers are added every day or so as they come into bloom. It would be over-pedantic to try and work to a fixed weight:volume ratio with this method.

Flowers with double or interleaved petals will trap a lot of air when introduced to the menstruum unless carefully stirred, perhaps repeating after an hour or two if anything floats to the surface. Most flowers require a much briefer maceration than the standard 10-14 days – in the case of Rose petals, overnight is sufficient to extract the essential oils, anything longer will risk a ‘stewed’ tincture with unwanted tannins. By comparison the resins of Marigold flowers will never be fully extracted even in 96% alcohol – macerating for 3-4 weeks is recommended.

The weight:volume ratio quoted for each flower is intended only as a rough guide – more than any other tincture preparation it’s recommended to work to the ‘just enough menstruum to cover the marc’ method. Likewise maceration times are flexible – it should be apparent on checking when flowers have become fully saturated.


Chamomile, German
, Chamomilla matricaria1:3 45%, 7 days

Gather in full flower. Provided the plants are in sufficiently firm soil, the flowers of this annual are easiest to harvest by gathering several stems between forked fingers, palm upwards, closing the fingers together and pulling up firmly, yielding a fist-full of flowers. In lighter soil, gather the flowers together in bunches and snip them off the flowers with a centimetre or two of stem attached.

One can also use the flowers of the Roman Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, which are gathered every few days throughout summer flowering. Whilst the yield may be modest, this is more powerful remedy, and is much loved as a pretty and durable front-of-border perennial.


Clover, Red, Trifolium pratense – 1:3 25%, 10 -14 days

Red Clover can be grown as a garden subject, valuable as a nitrogen-fixer, but will need quite a patch for a useful yield of flowers. Alternatively, it’s a common subject of meadows and field margins. The flowers are plucked when full and a good red/purple colour, trying to avoid too many that are immature or ‘browned off’, and macerating as soon as possible, as Red Clover is very quality-sensitive.



Coltsfoot flowers, Tussilago farfara1:3 25%, 14 days

Coltsfoot flowers appear early in spring before the leaves. A good stand of the plant, usually found on waste ground, will be required for a viable yield. Pick the whole flower complete with calyx and some stem material attached.

Although the flowers are considered superior to the leaf, given the low yield a good compromise is to use a weak tincture of the flower (between 1:5 & 1:10) in which to macerate leaves when they appear a week or two later. (See also Coltsfoot leaf).


Cornsilk, Zea Mays1:3 25%, 14 days

The Maize ‘tassels’ (strictly speaking, the stigmas of the female flowers) are harvested commercially before the corn-seed has ripened, but as a domestic garden vegetable one is growing the plant primarily for ‘corn-on-the-cob’. Just as the corn ripens in late summer, the wrapping can be carefully opened just enough to gently tease off the tassels. Do this before the ends become so browned off they start to wither – but beware, opening the cobs too early gives ants and other interested parties access to the delicious contents whilst ripening is still awaited. Macerate immediately and the tassels will require no further comminution.


Elderflowers
, Sambucus nigra1:3 25%, 10 days

The panicles of Elderflowers often open unevenly so some compromise may be required, provided no significant proportion of ‘browned off’ flowers are present. It’s convenient to pick the whole panicle and then twist off the larger stems, leaving terminal stems attached. Further light tearing by hand or a quick pass through a shredder/processor may be required.

See also Elderberries.


Hawthorn
, Crataegus monogyna1:3 25%, 10 days

Can be picked as developed flower buds and/or open flowers. A few young leaves will usually come away during hand picking which can also be incorporated (some authorities recommend this).

It’s also common practice to use tincture of Hawthorn flowers as the menstruum in which to macerate Hawthorn berries later in the year, for a balanced and potent product. Conversely, one can macerate Hawthorn flowers in a tincture of the berries made the previous autumn. (See also Hawthorn berries).

Most texts still refer to Crataegus oxyacanthoides, which is simply the old name for C. laevigata., relatively rare and most likely found as a small tree in southerly woodlands. C. monogyna is the ubiquitous species most common in our hedgerows.


Hops
, Humulus lupulus1:4 60%, 14 days

Hop ‘flowers’ are strictly speaking strobiles – a cone of papery bracts that surround the tiny inner (female) flower or seed. They are stripped off the hop vine when fully ripe (papery and yellow) in late summer. Very fine comminution (e.g., by food processor) will be required to achieve a wt:vol ratio higher than 1:4.

In many, many texts Hops are quoted as an example of a herbal remedy that must be dried before use. Practical experience proves this to be a myth.


Lavender
, Lavandula spp. – 1:2 45%, 14 days

In theory one should harvest Lavender in full flower, but it’s rare for the whole spike to flower at once, so the best guide is to choose a hot dry day when the aroma carries on the air. It’s recommended to cut Lavender near the base of the flower stems as this will need to be done anyway to keep the plant tidy and productive. Whether you incorporate the stems (as growers for essential oil do) is up to you – alternatively, strip the flowers off the stems by hand for a more concentrated product. Some plants ripen unevenly so you may have to harvest twice, a week or two apart.

Choosing varieties is fraught with problems as Lavenders hybridise so readily and there are thousands of cultivars in existence. One should be looking for an ‘English’ lavender – Lavandula officinalis, L. spica & L. vera are effectively synonyms. Lavandula angustifolia is thought to be a subspecies of the above, is often called ‘true’ Lavender, and is the basis of most high-quality commercial essential oils. Most garden cultivars are crosses between L. angustifolia and L. lateriflora, the latter being ‘Spike’ Lavender, which gives an inferior oil but is more floriferous.


Marigold, Pot
, Calendula officinalis 1:3 90%, 3-4 weeks

Pick flowers fully opened complete with calyx. No comminution required. Can be picked every day or two to add to waiting menstruum, until full. Macerate for a further 3 weeks.

Some herbalists also like to stock a version made with 25% or 45% alcohol (gentler, more ‘balanced’, but less resin). A few prefer to use petals only. Marigold flowers are also used to make an oil by hot infusion, usually in Sunflower oil. Note there are many cultivars available – avoid any that are not a good even orange colour. Those selectively bred for medicinal use will be double, deep orange with a near-black centre. (See also Marigold herb).


Marshmallow
, Althaea officinalis1:2 25%, 7 days

Marshmallow flowers are picked partially to fully open, and separated from the calyx. A good stand of Marshmallow is essential as a very large number of flowers are required for a useful yield. It may help to spread the load that they can be gathered every day or two over a long repeat-flowering period, adding to waiting menstruum until full. Macerate for a further week.

Flowers of many other members of the Mallow family can be used if available in sufficient quantity, including a close cousin, the garden Hollyhock with its much fleshier blossoms (black- or red-flowered varieties are preferred). Marshmallow and its relatives are also commonly used to make syrups by the cold layering method.(See also Marshmallow leaf and Marshmallow root).


Mullein
, Verbascum thapsus 1:3 25%, 10 – 14 days

Pick flowers from just opening to fully open. They should pull cleanly from the calyx, which is not wanted. Gather daily to add to waiting menstruum, until full. Macerate for a further 10 days before pressing.

Some herbalists collect flowers until midseason and then incorporate leaves and flowering tops into the same menstruum. Oil of mullein is also produced from the flowers, by either cold or hot infusion in Sunflower or Olive oil. (See also under ‘Aerial Herbs’).


Rose Petals
, Rosa spp.1:2 30% (or 45%), 1-2 days

Pluck the whole blossom when partially or fully open. Most modern Roses repeat- flower through the summer, often after an initial ‘flush’. The best quality blooms will come from the sort of warm, dry day when the aroma carries on the breeze. Whilst the buds are still tight the calyx will come away as well – this and the stamens must be carefully removed. If fully open (but not wilting!) the petals can simply be lifted away by the handful, leaving the calyx, etc on the plant. The choice of alcohol strength is yours. The brief maceration will extract the volatiles fully but avoids ‘stewing’ with tannins.

Any strongly aromatic Rose with red, pink or white flowers is acceptable. The best yield of volatiles is said to come from ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, a modern pink English rose. Traditionalists prefer the Apothecary’s Rose (Rosa gallica), although in truth this is better adapted to more southerly climes.

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