Heat Receiver bowl Water Pot Plant matter Essence Ice
but almost any fragrant plant should work well for
this project. The technique is simple: steam rises
through a strainer full of plant matter, vaporizing
volatile oils and other fragrant compounds, which
condense on an icy bowl and drip into a small
receiving bowl. Start your essence!
CAUTION: Do not use glass cookware in
this project unless you understand how to
prevent breakage due to thermal shock. Even
borosilicate glass can shatter explosively if
heated or cooled too rapidly. Also, be very
careful to avoid steam burns while inspecting
the still and/or emptying the receiving bowl.
(such as drying or grinding) that releases the plant’s
Fresh, whole plants are best if you have a large
still with plenty of room. Dried whole plants are
commonly used. Grinding is generally not recommended. We compromised by gently stripping the
leaves off fresh rosemary sprigs with our fingers,
as shown in Figure A.
3. Assemble your still.
Set the pot on the stove and fill it with water to just
below the bottom strainer when it’s in place (Figure
B). Tap water is fine. Then put the strainer in place.
4. Load the plants.
Fill the bottom strainer with an even, loose layer of
your plant matter. You may compact the plants a
bit, but be sure to leave them loose enough to allow
steam to pass through from below (Figure C).
5. Insert the upper strainer(s)
The upper strainer provides a level resting surface
for the small receiving bowl, which makes it easy to
insert and remove even while hot.
I think of a layer of plants as a “stage.” The diagram
(above left) shows only one stage, but in fact you can
have as many stages as you can find strainers to fit
your pot (Figure D). The only limit is their structural
stability — don’t pile them high enough to tip over!
6. Position your receiving bowl.
The small receiving bowl sits on the bottom of the
uppermost strainer. If you have only 1 strainer, you
can just set the bowl on top of the plants, or you can
clear a space in the plant layer for the bowl to rest.
Just make sure that it’s centered in the pot, and as
level as possible (Figure E).
1. Choose your plants.
Decide what kind of fragrance(s) you would like to
extract. Generally, the stronger your plant matter
smells to begin with, the better. Rosemary, lemon
verbena, vanilla, scented gardenia, lavender, and
wild rose are just a few of the many possibilities.
7. Drop in the condenser.
Fill the large condensing bowl generously with ice
and position it in the opening of the top strainer,
as shown (Figure F). Make sure that it’s level and
centered over the receiving bowl. Your still is complete (Figure G). I named mine the VapoShrub.
2. Prepare your plants.
In preparing your plants, there is a tradeoff between
the need to pack as many plants into the still as
possible and the need to avoid any processing
8. Extract the fragrance.
Set the burner to medium-high heat and bring the
water in the pot to an even simmer. I find that I can
judge by the sound of the simmering water. But if
Illustration by Sean Michael Ragan
136 Make: Volume