distilling at Oko Farms


Last week we went to Oko Farms in Brooklyn, where M. is doing an aquaponics apprenticeship, to set up our little copper still for a distillation in the outdoors. Yemi, the lead farmer there, has found that aromatic herbs grow especially well in an aquaponic system, and the farm is lush right now with blue spice basil (a very fragrant, almost tulsi-like variation), lemongrass, mint and more! The basic premise of aquaponics is that fish waste provides nutrients for the plants and plant roots filter the water for the fish, in a contained system which is highly efficient and environmentally friendly. We spent a peaceful morning making a deliriously fragrant blue spice basil hydrosol (using an aquarium pump from the farm to keep cool water cycling through the condenser of the still - something I'll be replicating at home) and I can't wait to go back to do another batch! Eventually, we'd like to try distilling the same plant grown both aquaponically and in soil at the farm to compare the resulting hydrosols.

I've mostly begun learning how to distill as a creative practice, not necessarily to sell hydrosols in the shop, although that may eventually happen. I find it to be an incredibly meditative process and the undivided attention it requires guarantees a nice chunk of time spent firmly in the moment. It's also a way to connect with a truly ancient process and to develop a deeper understanding of the plants I work with day to day. Here are a few resources that I've found helpful while beginning my distilling education:

Ann Harman's book Harvest to Hydrosol is a highly practical guide

Distillation: A How-To Booklet, by Jeanne Rose (she has many other publications about hydrosols, essential oils, perfumery and skincare too!)

Hydrosols by Suzanne Catty (monographs of 67 different hydrosols!)

and another helpful list of resources

I purchased my still here. Mine is the 3 liter, although now I have my eye on the 5 liter, too.

And even larger stills can be purchased here. Watch out, this could become a very expensive habit!

setting up the still

blue spice basil (Ocimum americanum)

our makeshift sauté pan heat diffuser set-up

mugwort, blue spice basil and rice in the drying shed at Oko

Rice grows beautifully in the aquaponic system, we even brainstormed about distilling the rice hulls for hydrosol...

Sending a fragrant mist of plant magic your way,

where summer and autumn meet


This is one of my favorite moments in the year in the world of Northeast native plants, and I never let it pass without a trip to one of the native plant gardens near us, either at NYBG or BBG. It's a ritual to mark the shifting of the seasons, and a way to keep learning about our connection to the ecosystems that surround us, even as we go about our days along crowded sidewalks and tucked into bed in crumbling tenement buildings.

This year, the goldenrod is nearly past its prime just as the asters are getting ready to open. Last year, the two plant families seemed to reach their peak more simultaneously in a pollinator-laden riot of yellow and purple. The goldenrods, with their tuberous and densely matted root colonies are elbowing their way into the territory previously held by milkweeds and eupatoriums. The meadow plantings have grown full and lush, with the knee-high grasses and sedges providing support for the taller, leggier plants. Subtle shifts, for sure, but they feel meaningful. I've been watching each element of the garden come into its own from the beginning, and now we are bound together somehow. Our attention to these small details can be a path toward a deep love for the world and for each other. A love that moves us into action. I'd love to hear what you've been reading and thinking about this week, and how you've been taking loving action in the midst of it all. 

my own list of things read + done:

don't look away


And I'll leave you with a quote that I've been using to keep moving myself into action this week/month/year:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark

ice brewed tea + help for Houston & South Asia


As muggy days fade into cooler nights, I wanted to share a new-to-me tea brewing method that I've been loving lately. In New York City, the days are still warm, but a current of turning inward runs under the surface, and I've been trying to set aside a bit of time to contemplate and plan for the days ahead. Ice brewing was made for this moment.

Kouridashi is a traditional Japanese brewing method similar to cold brewing, which extracts the most delicate and volatile aromatics of the tea leaves, without a trace of bitterness. It can be a lovely way to explore different facets of a tea you already know in its hot-brewed form. Because of the subtlety of the flavors revealed (floral, buttery, sweet notes), I find that it's best to use a single-note tea (like an oolong, white tea or a Japanese green tea), or a very simple blend. I've been using our Green Glow Elixir, which is a simple blend of organic Japanese sencha, matcha and wild mint. Because there are so many variables (size of ice cubes, type of tea, room temperature, etc.) the instructions below are more of a general guide, feel free to adapt it according to your tastes. Part of the pleasure of the process is learning to see your tea leaves in a new way and paying close attention to the messages they might reveal to you.

To try it yourself:

Place your tea leaves in a small teapot or a bowl. A tablespoon of tea leaves works well for Japanese green teas, use a touch more for white tea or oolong.

Place ice cubes on top (I used two large cubes from this mold). The speed of melting and brewing will be determined by the size of your ice cubes, but ideally you'd use enough ice cubes to melt into about 8oz of water. Feel free to experiment with your water/ice to tea ratio to suit your preferences.

Some like to jumpstart the brewing process with a splash of hot water over the ice cubes and tea. I prefer to just let the ice melt on its own, adding more if it seems necessary to create enough tea.

While your tea is steeping: read, resist, garden, meditate, go for a walk, brainstorm, organize, sing, strategize, nap, send resources to help Houston, if you can. Go take a peek at the vintage treasures I'm donating 100% of sales from this week for Harvey relief, too! I'd also like to mention that in solidarity with the people of Bangladesh, who are also experiencing devastating flooding right now, 100% of sales from The Rains botanical perfume until Tuesday, September 5th will go to OxFam's emergency response team currently working in South Asia.

Steep until the ice is melted, and strain thoroughly. Sip with love.


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