What are Macerations?
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Maceration is the process that involves a slow steeping of a variety of plant matters in any type of liquid, usually (but not limited to), oils. Maceration is quite literally a type of infusion, albeit a slower, perhaps more time-consuming one that usually does not involve the use of heat. During maceration, the choice of plant matter is typically suspended in a liquid and left to sit or infuse for an inordinate amount of time ranging from a few weeks to a few months depending on the desired potency or eventual purpose of the maceration.
Many herbal preparations and remedies call for maceration, as it is a better way to extract otherwise delicate or highly volatile herbal essences. At its most basic, all macerations are literally cold infusions, or very subtle heat-infusions. Due to the length of time required to make macerations, large batches are often made in advance and simply stored (after having macerated for a while and strained through several layers of muslin afterwards) in amber bottles in your trusty medicine cabinet. If an immediate need for therapeutic oils is required, skip the maceration process and opt for essential oil blends. As for everything else, if you can't purchase pre-made vinegars or tinctures, your patience will be greatly rewarded.
What are macerations used for?
The use of macerations generally vary depending on the type of maceration mentioned, as macerations can run the gamut from herb or spice-infused oil macerations, herb or spice-infused vinegar macerations, herb or spice-infused liquor macerations (properly termed 'tinctures'), herb or spice-infused honey macerations, or cold macerations (plain water infused with a one type or a blend of herbs and spices, properly called a 'washes' or 'waters'). Some macerations may be used as massage oils or hair oils, while others may be employed as antiseptics or salves to facilitate wound healing. Still, others may be used a medicine (especially tinctures), that are either drunk straight or (more often than not) diluted with water or some other palatable liquid. With regards to oils, vinegars (a. k. a. 'rinses'), and waters, the maceration process renders the suspending liquid quite strong, but not quite as potent as tinctures or essential oils, thereby making them perfectly usable sans any dilution (with a few rare exceptions). Still, one must always try them out for possible adverse reactions prior to use.
What are macerations made of?
Macerations can be made out of a wide variety of different plant matter and generally any liquid or semi-liquid substance which the plant matter can be suspended in. In plain-speak, any plant matter (whether herbs or spices) suspended in a liquid (whether it be oils, alcohol, vinegar, plain water, honey, etc.) and left for a long amount of time to imbue its inherent essences into the suspension can be considered a maceration. Because it does not require heat or any lengthy type of preparation in order to be done, macerations are among the easiest and most basic methods of creating herbal remedies, although the process does work best for the creation of oils, vinegars and tinctures more so than salves or balms.
How are macerations made?
A maceration can be made by mixing any liquid substance with solid plant matter, usually in its dried form. Because moisture oftentimes causes bacteria and other microbes to multiply, using fresh herbs and spices to create macerations is possible, but is ill-advised. This 'rule of thumb' must be followed by rote especially when creating oils, tinctures, or vinegars lest the moisture contained in the fresh plant matter spoil the maceration. Less lasting oils such as olive oil, almond oil, and sesame oil are more perishable and must be prepared with extra care, ensuring that all suspended matter infused into the oil be (if possible) bone-dry to prevent spoilage. You may opt to finely powder or grind the plant matter than you intend to macerate to allow for faster infusion of the essences, as the finer the suspended particles are, the easier the essences can be absorbed by the liquid suspension. To hasten the process, you may actively shake the maceration regularly throughout its 'sitting' or infusing phase, or otherwise gently heat (not simmer or boil, mind you, but simply heat) the intended liquid suspension prior to combining it with the powdered plant matter to speed things up further. Another method of quickening the maceration process is to place the suspension in a warm sunny place, preferably under direct sunlight during the whole of the sitting phase. While the latter works for most macerations, there are exceptions to the rule, especially if you are macerating plant matter that possess volatile or heat-sensitive compounds that are denatured by light or heat. If such is the case, forgo either heating the liquids or placing it under direct sunlight and practice god-like patience and perseverance instead.
Prior to creating any suspension, always ensure that all containers and accoutrements that you intend to use is perfectly sterilized and thoroughly dry, once again to prevent the possibility of bacterial formation. Always cover it tightly (to prevent contamination by airborne bacteria, and to prevent spillage), and, when necessary, store in a cool, dark environment (cupboards work best). After some weeks to some months, strain the decoction through a fine mesh sieve (those made from bamboo or plastic are best, as they are non-reactive), topped (if desired) by doubled or tripled muslin or cheesecloth. Remember to squeeze out any remaining macerated liquid (wear sterlie gloves, again, to prevent contamination!), and decant the maceration into dark-hued mason jars for storage, or small, handy amber bottles for ready access and usage.
Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, © herbs-info.com 2013