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 2 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,

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