Back in the olden days (and even in the not-so-olden past and present homesteading days), a stillroom was a necessity in every rural home. This was a designated space (think a modern-day pantry of sorts) which housed herbs, jars, recipe books, tinctures, teas, and preserving agents (like alcohol, honey, and vinegar). This room was where the woman of the house (yes, most often it was the woman) created cosmetics, home brews, preserves, and a year's worth (at least) of herby medicinals. Can you imagine?
I would love to travel back and just step foot into one of these medieval distilling rooms — think of the medicinals, recipes, and lore passed down from generation to generation, all housed in one well-organized room? I like to think of herbs hanging from the rafters, intriguing, hand-made bottles and jars holding remedies long lost and forgotten.
Intrigued yet? I certainly was. I figure everyone who has any intention of making his or her own remedies should probably have a stillroom of his or her own. Don't have an extra, conveniently empty room off your kitchen? Meh, not a problem. Your stillroom can be a designated cupboard, a set of shelves, or even an outdoor building (when I lived in Maine, mine was in the old ice house on the property). Really, the only thing you need are herbs, supplies, and recipes, all housed in one convenient location.
Begin with a bit of research and observation; what herbs do you use or buy on a regular basis? For me, that's got to be chamomile, echinacea, a variety of mints, rose petals, rose hips, elderberries, nettles, turmeric, and marshmallow root. So, first, I cleared an old bookshelf and placed it against an empty wall. Then, I grew and dried those herbs, or ordered in bulk if I needed them right away. If you don't have space to grow that quantity of herbs, ordering in bulk is a great, affordable alternative.
Next, I stocked my menstruums (or the fluid in which herbs are preserved, then strained from, necessary in tincture making). I gathered grain alcohol (it's 190 proof — by far the best, most efficient preservative), apple cider vinegar, honey, and glycerin (all three are perfect as alcohol-free preservatives). I like to label everything in my own hand, so I usually decant these liquids into interesting/recycled/upcycled containers and create labels on my computer, marking the date they were bottled. Same goes for bulk herbs; they'll arrive in plastic bags, but the sooner you can get them into glass, the better. Oh, and be sure to use tinted glass in blue or amber if your herbs are exposed to sunlight.
Then I began to gather recipes. I have a journal of my own experiments, so that went on the shelf. In the back of the same notebook, I gathered print-outs, copies, and hand-written recipes others had either given me or that I've come across from other herbalists willing to share their formulas. Because I'm pretty Type A, I have these cross-referenced by herb and by the conditions they're used for. That way, if I know I want to make a cold and flu remedy, it's as easy as flipping to that section of my journal and seeing what my options are. At this point, I have my favorite formulas memorized, but I tend to double check counter-indications and any herbal-drug interactions, just to keep them fresh in my mind.
In my stillroom, I also keep my collection of herbal books. These include wild-crafting books, identification manuals, and pretty much every book on herbs that's ever resonated with me. When I had an actual room for my stillroom, I put up drawings and photos of herbs, little sayings that inspired me, prayer flags, candles, interesting packaging (in case I was crafting gifts), a hot plate, and a selection of cooking vessels. Eventually, I added soap molds, candle-making equipment, carrier oils (such as almond, apricot, olive, and jojoba), and essential oils.
It takes time and experience to gather everything you need together. Begin with a few herbs and a few tea recipes. Blending something as simple as rose hip and ginger tea, placing it in a recycled jar, labeling it, then stocking it in your kitchen can give you a great feeling of independence. Just think — the next time you have a cold (rose hips have lots of vitamin C), an upset stomach (cue ginger), or have winter chills (rose hips and ginger both warm the body by increasing circulation), you have your own remedy, made with your own hands, knowing you have plenty of raw materials to make more, whenever you need it.
Want some tips to get started making your own herbal remedies?