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Distillation



“Distill’d from Limbecks”


In distillation, the essence of the plant (or sometimes animal) ingredients was preserved in a water made through a lengthy process. First, the ingredients were steeped (often overnight) in a solvent (often wine). Then the liquid was evaporated over a low fire, and the vapor was captured by an alembican apparatus made expressly for the process of distilling. To make waters stronger, another batch of ingredients could be steeped in the distilled herbal water and the process repeated. While various waters were available at the apothecary shop, as a matter of expediency and economy, women held distillation among their many skills and duties.



Leonhart Fuchs. De historia stirpium commentarii impensis et vigiliis elaborati. Basel, 1542

A great number of recipes called for a "water" among their many ingredients. Angelica water is often found in recipes against the Plague, and rue (pictured above) could be distilled into a water used in some recipes for kidney and gall stones. Preparing a water through distallation took many hours and only produced a single ingredient.  This may be one reason why some recipes called for such large quantities: women could prepare a water and store it for later use, when practical.

 
Johann Elsholtz. Destillatoria curiosa. English. London, 1677



Hannah Woolley. The queen-like closet, or Rich cabinet. London, 1675



Ambrose Cooper. The complete distiller. London, 1757



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"The Receipt of Reason"



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