123 FARM BLOG
July 16, 2020
Essential Oils + Distillation
May Gray has gone… June Gloom has passed… Hello July! Our Southern California temperature has been cruising past the 80’s and lounging in the 90’s. Although it makes our plants (and people) much warmer, we welcome the sun and summer with open arms. Why? Because it means that our fields will be painted a variety of shades of pretty purples. Because when the afternoon breeze rolls through, we are surrounded by the cool air and the scent of lavender. We really cannot ask for a more perfect summer spot.
Our lavender fields in bloom also mean that one of our biggest farm projects of the year is ready to begin: the lavender harvest. And that is what currently keeps us busy. Every morning, we put on our boots and farm hats and head out to our lavender fields. We cut the lavender stems in a repetitive motion to a silent beat in our heads, until over 80 crates are packed full. We then take our load over to the distiller, where our harvested lavender patiently waits for its turn for essential oil extraction.
Essential oils are volatile aromatic compounds that are contained in plants, where they serve to toward off solar radiation, heat, cold, drought, and pests, and even helping the plant heal after physical injury. These pure oils can be extracted from the plant through a method of distillation. Essential oils have been used for thousands of years and are still commonly used today in various aspects of people’s lives including personal and home care, repellents, food, and health.
In order to produce the best quality essential oil from our lavender, we use a steam distillation method. Low-heat steam distillation is the most common way of extracting essential oils. Pressurized steam travels through the plant, liberating the essential oils and carrying them away. The water and oils are separated by gravity in a separator can, which separates the water soluble parts (the hydrosol) and the fat soluble parts (the essential oil). Steam distillation is considered to be one of the cleanest methods and the best way to yield the most oil (Masango 2005). Still, it takes around 120 pounds of lavender to produce between 200-300 ml of oil! This is why our essential oils are so precious. We continue to use the low pressure, low temperature steam distillation method so that we can protect the beneficial components in the oil and produce a high quality oil. In addition to lavender, we also distill peppermint, tea tree, and rosemary in our distiller.
After the distillation process, we pour the essential oils into opaque glass containers and cover them with a cheese cloth. We then leave the oils to outgas for 2-3 months. Then, they are ready to be bottled or used in our 123 Farm products!
Essential oils have traditionally been used medicinally, but recent scientific research in the chemical composition of essential oils has revealed the existence of therapeutic molecules in these oils (Dhifi 2016). Lavender essential oil is one of the most commonly used oils as it can be used in various aspects of our lifestyles. Many scientists have studied the effect lavender essential oil has on the nervous system, and concluded that the use of such essential oils has relieved symptoms including stress, anxiety, and depression (Lopez 2017, Karadag 2015). Another study revealed that lavender essential oil is made up of properties that can aid in pain relief and reduce inflammation (da Silva, Luft 2015). In North America and in Europe, some doctors even prescribe pure essential oils to their patients as part of their treatment plan to alleviate symptoms.
Unfortunately, not all essential oils are equal. There are few regulations to induce honesty on labels, and essential oils are not regulated by the FDA, so “certified pure” is not necessarily a valid designation. Therefore, it is very important to be well informed when purchasing essential oils. If you are looking for a high quality,therapeutic lavender essential oil, some questions to ask are:
What kind of plant is the oil extracted from? (Lavandula Angustifoia is the highest grade lavender for therapeutic purposes).
Where was the lavender grown?
When was it harvested?
What kind of distillation process did the oil go through?
Doing a little background check on your essential oil is the best way to know what quality oil you are getting.
Essential oils can be very beneficial and are not only limited to lavender. It is interesting to see how different plant oils each seem to have their own specialty. Peppermint is great to ward off insects and alleviate nausea. Tea tree works wonders on bug bites, rashes, and pimples. Rosemary is known for promoting circulation. Even different types of lavender contain different therapeutic compounds and levels; some are better for therapeutic purposes than others. All of us at 123 Farm love incorporating essential oils in our daily lives and encourage you to do so as well. Below, we have shared some notes on how we use various essential oils before bed.
Essential Oil Sleep Routine
A drop or two of tea tree essential oil on a developing pimple at the end of a nose.
2-3 drops of lavender essential oil and rosemary essential oil on knuckles to alleviate stiffness and pain.
2-3 drops of lavender essential oil around the temples for a good night’s sleep
Mix around 10 drops of peppermint essential oil with a lavender or peppermint floral water and spray around your bed to keep those nasty mosquitos away.
*Essential oils are 70 times more potent than the plants from which they are extracted. Some people have more sensitive skin, so we recommend using a carrier oil to dilute most essential oils. (The exceptions are lavender and tea tree essential oils which, in most cases do not need to be diluted.) We also recommend diluting all essential oils when applied to babies’ skin.*
June 23, 2020
Introducing Maesil Syrup
123 Farm, like everyone else, has been hit by 2020 in ways that no one could ever have anticipated. We were particularly sorry to have to cancel our festivals, and other projects have also had to be put on hold. But even so, work on the land never ceases.
Our lettuces grew very quickly this year and were almost too pretty to harvest; there were 3000 pepper plants that were eager to take up residence in our soil; and the weeds wasted no time in taking over our fields. None of us noticed the time flying by as spring rushed busily in and we tried to keep up with it.
Our most recent project: harvesting and processing the thousands of little green and yellow plums yielded by about 150 Maesil (Korean Plum) Trees on the farm.
Maesil—officially called “prunus mume,” but most commonly known as the Korean plum or the Japanese apricot—is popular in East Asia for both its flower and its fruit. The first blossoms typically appear around the third week of January. During this time, the bees take advantage of our orchard as the early part of the season comes with scarcity of food for them. Though fruits are typically harvested throughout June and July, our Maesil fruits have always been ready for picking in May. We wonder if it’s because of our California sun and climate.
Because the little green plums are too tart and bitter to consume by themselves, they must go through a fermentation process to produce an extract widely enjoyed by the people of Korea. Immediately after the fruits are harvested, they are hand washed and packed snuggly, with organic sugar, into traditional, extremely large, Korean ceramic pots. They are covered with heavy ceramic lids, and there they must sit quietly in their cozy, dark haven (with the occasional stir here and there), until we revisit them next year, by which time they should have fermented into delicious tangy Maesil syrup. Studies have shown that longer fermentation time can increase the beneficial compounds in the extract, so we feel it is very important to leave the ferment for at least a year. (Choi 2020, Koh 2020).
Maesil syrup is commonly used medicinally and, in the Korean community, this custom has been passed down from generation to generation. Anyone at 123 Farm who complains of indigestion will soon be handed a warm cup of Maesil tea (Maesil syrup mixed with hot water) to relieve their discomfort. Though research is limited, several experiments carried out on mice have indicated a positive correlation with components in the fruit Maesil and its benefits in the small intestine and bowel movements (Lee 2017, Kim 2017, Na 2012).
A recently published study that specifically focused on the Maesil extract (syrup) and its anticancer properties revealed not only anticancer, but also anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects (Bailly 2019). The study further revealed that, although more research and data is needed, their findings supported the use of Maesil syrup to treat gastrointestinal cancers and that it has beneficial effects on treating the digestive tract. Don’t you love it when you discover that something delicious is also filled with incredible health benefits?
Maesil syrup is a versatile ingredient to have at hand in your pantry. Not only can you enjoy it as a beverage, but it is also a perfect sweetener for marinades, sauces, salad dressings, etc. Knowing how precious Maesil syrup is, we look forward with great expectations to next year’s outcome from this year’s harvest. Till then, here is a very simple recipe for Maesil tea, a perfect ending to any meal.
Iced Maesil Tea Recipe
2 cups of Water
2 tbsp of Maesil syrup
½ cup of Ice
4-5 bruised leaves of Mint
Add all ingredients into your cup and stir stir stir!
You can always add in different herbs or slices of fruit like oranges or strawberries to change up your flavor.
Substitute your water with sparkling water to make your new favorite soda.
For a warm drink, add 2 tablespoons of syrup to a mug of warm water. The amount can be adjusted to your taste.