Monday, October 1, 2012

Farm to Pharmacy Intensive

Last week, I participated in the Farm to Pharmacy Intensive with David Crow and William Siff at Goldthread Herb Farm. The farm is located in the foothills of the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, and we were very lucky to have nice weather the majority of the time! Over the week, we learned about herbs in many different ways, including plant walks outdoors, harvesting, making various products with the herbs, and lectures. The concepts were taught incorporating Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic principles.

Learning in the outdoor classroom with William Siff

The intensive went from Saturday, September 22 - Friday, September 28. With the exception of Friday and Saturday, class went from 9 am - 6 pm, with delicious vegetarian lunches catered by The Bakers Oven located in Shelburne Falls. The schedule varied each day, according to the weather.

A major focus of the program was how to apply herbalism at home. Therefore, we learned a lot about working with herbs that are relatively harmless, have a wide range of therapeutic benefits, are cost-effective, and are easy to grow in North America (if you are interested in growing your own herbs, check out The Medicinal Herb Grower by Richo Cech of Horizon Herbs). For example, applying herbalism can be as simple as using culinary herbs, which can have immense health benefits. This includes the oreganos, thymes, basils, sages, onions, garlic, and more.

Because the intensive was located at the herb farm, we were able to do some outdoor hands-on learning. At the end of September in Massachusetts, the growing season is coming to an end, so we harvested herbs and seeds, and we prepared plant beds for rest for the winter. We also garbled herbs, which is the process of separating the part of the plant that will be used from the parts that aren't wanted. For instance, removing the stems from dried peppermint leaves for storage purposes. Here is a nicely illustrated blog post describing how to easily garble herbs.

Wire mesh screen used for garbling herbs

We also learned about composting,

Vermicomposting in the greenhouse

and about many properties of the herbs that were present at the farm.

Ashwagandha, an important herb in Ayurvedic tradition and a strong restorative that strengthens the immune system

In addition, we learned about essential oils with David Crow from Floracopeia (the quality of the essential oils from Floracopeia is simply amazing).

On Thursday, we distilled local hemlock to make hydrosol and essential oil with Goldthread's distillery. This process involved stripping the hemlock needles,

Stripping hemlock needles

and placing the needles in a chamber in the 85-gallon still. With a fire and water, steam was created underneath, allowing the hot steam to pass upwards through the plant material, carrying the essential oil with it. The steam with the essential oil then went through a cold condensing unit, where the steam and essential oil recondensed. The liquid collected in a container, and because of the different densities, the oil separated from the water. The oil produced is the hemlock essential oil. After the essential oil is decanted off, the remaining aromatic liquid, which contains trace amounts of the essential oil, is known as a hydrosol. Hydrosols have numerous applications, such as for body care and as natural air fresheners.

Hemlock Distillation 

Hemlock essential oil (on top) and hydrosol (below)

While in Conway, I also explored the area, including a visit to the Ashfield Farmers Market nearby.

Ashfield Farmers Market

On Friday, I went on a tour of South River Miso, which is located right in Conway.

Miso is a seasoning often used to make miso soup in Japanese cuisine. However, it can be used in many other food preparations as well. As a fermented product, miso is reported to have numerous health benefits, such as cancer prevention, and in promoting health as a probiotic. At South River Miso, making miso involves cooking the beans, inoculating brown rice with spores of the mold Aspergillus oryzae to make koji, treading the beans by feet for an hour (wearing clean organic cotton socks, of course!), adding the rice koji, and then fermenting the miso in the wooden vats for 3 weeks, or even up to 3 years. This process produces not only miso, but also tamari, which is the liquid that collects in the vats of miso. Tamari is similar to soy sauce, but it has a lighter and sweeter taste. Check out these videos for a tour of South River Miso and to see how they make their products.

South River Miso's Fermentation Building. Tamari fermenting in the carboys (left) and miso fermenting in the vats (right).

South River Miso makes many varieties of miso, including traditional misos made with brown rice, and untraditional flavors, such as chickpea miso. I purchased some chickpea miso tamari and brown rice koji as a starter to make amazaké again. All of South River Miso's products can be ordered online from their website, and their miso can also be found at many Whole Foods markets.

It was a wonderful week away, and I learned a lot. Having already taken some herbalism and aromatherapy classes, I enjoyed learning from new teachers with different backgrounds, and also learning from a great group of peers. One major difference in this program compared to some of my previous classes was the emphasis on Ayurvedic principles and Traditional Chinese Medicine. If you are interested in other events offered by David Crow and William Siff, visit Floracopeia's website and Goldthread Herb Farm and Apothecary!

 Goldthread Herb Farm

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