This year I was alert enough to harvest the willow while it was blooming, which is the best time to get willowbark, because the sap is running to the tips of the branches and making sure that the catkins get the good juice/nutrition possible. -- It's sex, it's important!
I don't have an excuse not to get willow while it's blooming. We have hybrid willows outside the door to tell us when the other willows are blooming. I went to a creek by the snake bridge, where I know there is a good stand of native willow (Salix nigra). I wanted my first tincture to be native willow. This hybrid stuff is probably fine, too.
So I pulled over by the creek (If it's small, and this one is, I pronounce it "crick"). I snipped off end branches with catkins about as long as my forearm. There is a good population of trees there, but I didn't denude any tree. Well, I really can't because I'm short, even standing in the truck. But I exercised prudence, a principle of wildcrafting. --Speaking of prudence. How about gratitude?
There is a practice that's very good to do, that when you arrive where you are planning to gather plant material, stop and thank the plants or trees you're about to harvest. Some offer tobacco, some sage, some offer water. Each one is a prayer of gratitude in its own way. If you stop and think about it, this earth has a wondrous abundance of gifts.
It's easy to get caught up in learning about foraging and finding the plants and working with them. It's nerdy and it's groovy! -- But there's nothing for us to find if the plants aren't there, and aren't persistent past reason.
Fortunately for us, they are that persistent. They struggle against monoculture, herbicides, pesticides, ignorance and global warming, just to name a few. Can you imagine the energy it takes to flower every year, struggling against all that?
I gathered a relatively small amount of branch tips and catkins, something like a double handful of it. Then I went home and cleaned it. Not soap & water clean, I took the twigs I harvested and held them over a bowl and stripped off the catkins and leaves, and then took the thin layer of bark off the twigs. I did this again and again and again until I was done. And that was my willow material du jour.
I got out a quart canning jar to put the material into. As you can see from the next photo, I probably could have used a pint jar.
I added vodka to cover the material and used a wooden spoon squish the material into the vodka to make sure it was all submerged. You want every square millimeter of plant to be in contact with your menstruum (the vodka) (or Everclear, etc.) This way the alcohol extracts from the plant material the essential oils that you want to use later. Otherwise you're only allowed to get a headache or other pain in spring, when the catkins are blooming. But this makes it convenient, see? -- Well, you will. And you do, or you probably wouldn't be reading this, right?
I put a lid on the jar and sat it in the herb cabinet, where I keep all the herbs, recite it with me: "In a cool, dry place!" Very good!
You're supposed to shake it vigorously every day. Probably different recipes say different things about this. I probably shook it 2 out of 3 days. This is okay. Doing this inexactly is okay. -- It's a good thing, too, or I'd fail every recipe I ever made.
So time goes by and the fluid gets to be the color, in this case, of a nice beef broth. Maybe lighter. I waited 8 weeks, shaking most days, opening it and smelling it, and putting it back, and feeling all wealthy!
Two months later, in late May, I strained out the twigs, stems, leaves and catkins by pouring from the quart jar into the measuring cup through cheesecloth laid in a tea strainer. My point was not really to measure it, but because the cup has that pour spout on it. Notice on the cheesecloth that there was some material, little bits, still in the fluid. And after the straining, not so much, but it's cloudy.
I don't have a lot of amber bottles to use, so I got out the Jagermeister bottles I have on reserve, and used a funnel and more cheesecloth, and poured it in. You develop an eye for how much fluid will fit where, and this fit in the Jager bottle Juuuuuust Riiiight.
You can try coffee filters? But most stuff won't go through a coffee filter. I have tried. You can try. Then you'll go looking for cheesecloth. Grocery and hardware stores will have packages of cheesecloth by the canning materials. Some fabric stores have it. But get it, it makes life easier. If you're a sewing nerd, I imagine gauze would work better than those darned coffee filters.
And re-use your cheesecloth. Rinse it, wash it, whatever you need to, but it's re-useable!
Now, I want to use and share my tincture down the road, but I don't want someone getting happy and thinking they can snork down the willowbark tincture all the while thinking they've found my stash of Jagermeister, oh no! (I actually keep that stash elsewhere, hah!)
You need to label everything you make. Okay, I do, because I don't remember everything infallibly. So I found some artwork I liked from Southwestern Art magazine and added a label, and left the Jagermeister stag intact.
Added later ... A Navajo friend informed me that this gentleman is the Talking God or Yeibeichai. A main Navajo deity, Talking God is compassionate to mankind. He is in charge of earth treasures and leader of the Night Way, a nine-day healing ceremony. (Corn Girl is his daughter.)
Night Way is the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies. It is also the most difficult to learn because it involves memorizing hundreds of songs, dozens of prayers and several very intricate sand paintings. In spite of this, the demand for Night Chants remains great. The Night Chant is basically a healing ritual to either heal the sick, and/or to restore order and balance to relationships within the Navajo universe.
Wow, so interesting! I love a good aside!
I tagged the bottle with instructions of how much to use. I am pretty sure the tag used to be a manila envelope.
Willowbark contains salicylic acid, which is the natural version of today's chemical copy, aspirin. And maybe some factory worker was disgruntled and spat in the vat from which my pills were later made, right? -- On the other hand, I know what went into this bottle.
No, I'm not that paranoid. But I know what went into this tincture. Now I'm waiting for a headache.