Old Ways Herbal

Vermont Herb School, Clinical Herbalist, Plant Remedies, & Herbal Farmcraft Wisdom.

Preserving Water-Soluble Magic Beyond the Growing Season: Herbal Ice Cubes

6 Comments

This thing happens kind of a lot when you live in a place with significant seasons: you harvest some wonderful medicine, enough to last you a while–maybe all year–but then you have to actually do something with it while it’s still good, knowing you can’t get more until next year.  Most people’s gut reaction is to either dry or tincture the wonderful medicine, and generally speaking that works great for most things.

Except when it doesn’t.

If you’re familiar with solubility, you know that some medicines extract best (or in some cases only extract) in water-based preparations, so tinctures aren’t an option.  (If I lost you, try this article and scroll down to the section on solubility.)

Some (actually, many) herbs with significant water-soluble medicinal constituents, and generally herbs with high volatile oil content, tend to dry as weak medicine.  Obviously this isn’t true across the board–otherwise tea wouldn’t be a thing–but think of the difference between fresh basil and dried basil and I think you’ll get what I mean: there’s a real difference, and fresh is better.

And sometimes the medicinal properties evaporate straight out with the water when the plant dries, making it essentially useless in its dried form–think of borage, or jewelweed: wonderful fresh but downright lousy when dried.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to preserve water-soluble constituents without drying the herbs.

No, just kidding.  Here’s an easy & fun solution that allows us to preserve water-soluble medicine at the peak of its medicinal awesomeness.  This is the sort of fun kitchen witching that yields instant gratification: you might find yourself passing around your latest success at a dinner party, and any kids in your life are likely to think you’re a genius.

Herbal Ice Cube Recipe

1. Choose herbs that make sense together.  Keep in mind:

  • Solubility
  • Freshness (things that are harvested at the same time are ideal)
  • Flavor
  • Formulation purpose
  • Energetics & synergy

2. Harvest the herbs properly, at the appropriate time of day & moon phase, on a day when you have time to deal with them.

3. Immediately infuse or decoct as appropriate (instructions here).  Infuse or decoct at double strength.  Infuse for at least 6 hours, decoct for at least 2 hours.  You want super strong, fragrant awesomeness.  It should be decadent in that kitchen.

4. Cool to room temperature, covered, a matter of hours.

5. Strain through a wire mesh strainer into a large pitcher or batter bowl, something with a pour spout.

6. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  When completely frozen, pack cubes into freezer bags or jars, label, and store in freezer.  You will probably have to do numerous rounds of freezing ice cube trays to get all the liquid frozen.

Herbal Ice Cubes can be added to tea, juice, soup, or just thawed and drank throughout the year as needed.

Sample Herbal Ice Cube Formulas

To beat wintery blues in these cold, dark climes, I make ice cubes with:

  • Borage
  • Lemon Balm
  • Holy Basil
  • Calendula

And they’re there and easy when the days are short and cold and difficult and my family is grouchy in the deepest part of winter–pop it into a cup of tea with some honey and boom!  Cheerful people everywhere.

My husband’s poison ivy?  Yes, he still gets it in the winter.  How about:

  • Jewelweed
  • Plantain
  • Mullein Flower
  • Oatstraw
  • Nettles

Bam!  Take that itchy rash.

Winter cocktail parties?  Something like:

  • Rosemary
  • Lemon balm
  • Anise-hyssop
  • Ginger

And everyone thinks I’m special.

You get the idea.  Experiment & have fun.

Oh!  And also check out this article about the same concept, but for the amazing Immune Magic Mushroom-Herbal Heaven Ice Cubes.  They’re only so-so.

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6 thoughts on “Preserving Water-Soluble Magic Beyond the Growing Season: Herbal Ice Cubes

  1. I find the tenor of this post to be particularly delightful, thanks for bringing a smile to my evening! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is great! I will be implementing this for this year – I am missing my beautiful lemon balm and mint and although I attempted to dry what I could – it’s just not the same. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Awesome! Love this post. Newbie questions:

    Is there a way to know, aside from memorizing from a book, which herbs have what solubility or what works best dried, tea’d, or tinctured?

    And out of curiosity, can you just freeze the whole herb to use later instead of freezing the infusion|decoction?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes! Use your senses and experiences of the herb to tell when the medicine works best. Experiment like crazy and you’ll learn it in a way you’ll never forget. Generally speaking, common tea herbs are highly water-soluble, whereas herbs you only really see tinctured are mostly alcohol-soluble, like echinacea. Some compounds have specific scents or tastes, and when you run into them it’s a clear aha! moment for solubility: the numb, tingly mouth feeling you get from echinacea is berberine, also in Oregon grape, Japanese barberry, spilanthes, and lots of other anti-microbial immune boosters, that’s alcohol. The volatile oils in the mint family respond to oil or water extraction, but not so much tinctures. The cool, moist, cucumbery taste of mucilage just sings out to be paired with water. Again, the vast majority of herbs are soluble in both. there’s more about this in the weight-to-volume tincture article and I think there’s stuff in the honey article too. Planning to write a longer piece on solubility this winter, I keep getting questions on it so clearly the people want to know. Have fun experimenting!

      Liked by 1 person

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