Herbs in Africa.
Extraction Products
The Library Based Herbal Business
Part 6
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Ivor Hughes

In the first 5 articles of this series of Herbs in Africa, we have looked in broad outline at the basic requirements for small scale operations up to 4 ha in  size. So in the next few articles we will look at micro scale operations. Herbs  as a domestic industry. The micro production may be easily scaled up to meet small scale operations

I have noted that in Europe, USA and the Southern hemisphere many such  enterprises have grown to the scale of small industry, whilst others have met  the requirements of a local market being quite happy to make an independent  living. Their offerings run the whole spectrum, edibles, medicinals, but most  important from a cottage industry perspective, the body care and cosmetic  market.

One may start by making small batches and circulating them in amongst family,  friends and colleagues. This would be your first marketing exercise, this to  judge likely public reaction to your products. If they are good, then one could  distribute by direct sale, mail order or act as manufacturing wholesaler and  persuade retailers to stock the products. You will need to cost the products  out. That means everything involved in the selling price of the item must be  carefully worked out.

The basic raw material is the herbs. From article 1 in this series we have  the following information as representing fair average yields per ha but only if  the crops are at the correct spacing. That information is available via the  internet from the agriculture department of most countries. For sound reasons  one should always operate on dried herb. Therefore the average dried yield  figures will translate into,

Root : 2.5kg per  m3. Herb : 2kg per m3 Flower Petals : 50g per m3

Plant Part Fresh Yield per ha. Drying Ratio Average Dry Yield
Root 7500 kg 3:1 2500 kg
Herb 8000 kg 4:1 2000 kg
Flower 5000 kg 10:1 500 kg

One square metre is not a large space and may be converted into boxes or  containers to grow the herbs in. Container and patio gardening is popular on a  global basis. Much valuable information may again be gleaned from the internet  with reference to what is required for that type of production.

The root and herb in the majority of cases will be the substances that are  included in the majority of the actives used in the products. There are some  preparations in which whole dried flowers are extracted, but the general rule  is, that petals are used to perfume a product. Accordingly the ratio of perfume  to product is very small in comparison to the bulk of the product.

The amount of actives in a product would be at a strength of :

(1) 1:10 ... 10 ml is equal to 1g of the air dried plant. 1kg is the  equivalent of 10 litres.
(2) 1:20 ... 20 ml is equal to 1g of the air dried plant. 1kg is the  equivalent of 20 litres
(3) In Homeopathic potencies.

In practice the starting extraction rate would be 1:1 (1kg = 1litre) if it is  to be incorporated in a lotion, cream or salve. If your intended product were a  potion then the 1:10 and 1:20 figures will give you an estimate of end product  yield.

Essential Apparatus.
Much of the apparatus required for the manipulation of plant material may be  found in any reasonably well equipped kitchen.

Heat and oven proof glass ware. Weighing scales which should be accurate to  1g. Temperature controlled cook pots and fry pans. The fry pan makes a very good  water bath for temperature control purposes. Coffee grinder and Blender will be  found most useful for size reduction of the raw botanic material. Try to ensure  that all materials in contact with the solvent is either glass or stainless  steel.

If you intend to sell your products, then the minimum standard of hygiene, is  that which is expected of a restaurant kitchen.

The Solvents.
The solvents are
(1) Distilled water. (2) Rectified spirit 90%  v/v. (3) Various strengths of alcohol and water. There are some very  sound reasons for this. One may obtain the ethanol either by the fermentation  and distillation of ones own spirit. Rectify wine or rectify commercial spirits.  (See part 3 of this series) One may purchase laboratory glass ware which is  expensive or use your ingenuity and make your own apparatus.

Distillation Apparatus.

Commercial Glasswarewith ground glass joints.
The glassware has many advantages. It may be easily stripped for cleaning  purposes.

It is light and portable and conducts heat efficiently. Major draw  backs are that it is fragile, expensive and only suitable for small batches.

Home Made Apparatus.

The Key :

(A) Breakable joints for cleaning purposes.
(B) 'G' clamps to secure the still head to the body of the still.
(C) Stainless steel frying basket. with the handle bent across the mouth  of the basket
(D) Welded lugs to support the basket.
(E) Liquid reservoir.

The apparatus as shown is a modified stainless steel pressure cooker. In its  current configuration it is used for the extraction of essential oils for small  scale use. Oils are obtained by steam passing through the material in the charge  basket.

If the basket is removed it may be used to manufacture or rectify alcohol. With a suitable modification the apparatus may be used with a venturi tube for distillation under reduced pressure. The apparatus is simple, robust, and relatively cheap to make.

Two construction points of importance

(1) The still head and still body must  have a hermetic seal.

(2) The Condenser must be sized to dissipate the heat generated and  efficiently condense the vapours back to liquid. These two points are usually  the cause of failure or inefficiency in home built apparatus.

High Strength Alcohol By Freezing Out :

This is an ancient technique that preceded that of distillation, and was  known to the central Asian tribes 500 years before the birth of Christ.

Empty a bottle of wine or spirits into a suitable sealed container. Water  when it turns to ice will expand, so ensure that there is sufficient expansion  room in the container. Place the container into the domestic freezer and  leave until the water has frozen.

The unfrozen liquid is high strength alcohol. Decant it and seal it in a  glass bottle. It is volatile i.e. it is inflammable and will evaporate  easily.
Freezing Point: -114.00 deg C. Boiling Point: 78.00  deg C.

This method was first bought to the attention of Europeans by Paracelsus in  his published work
'Archidoxis' written in 1527. Francis Bacon  reported as follows ;

"Paracelsus reporteth, that if a glass of wine be set
upon a terrace in bitter frost, it will leave some liquor
unfrozen in the centre of the glass, which excelleth
Spiritus Vini drawn by fire.

The basic extraction apparatus in which you will use the solvents is shown in  Part 5 of this series.

Raw Materials :
The production of salves, creams and lotions will require some or all of the  following which are used as the carriers for the active substances :

(a) Beeswax (preferably unbleached)
(b) Good quality sweet almond or sunflower oil. (It should have been  deodorised )
(c) Gum Benzoin (As a preservative)
(d) Honey and Propolis

This theme will be further explored in coming articles. Further information  may be found on this web site

I have had feedback that there appears to be a problem with the freezing out of ethenol from cheap chateau cardboard wine and also from a brandy manufactured in the USA which the label stated was 40 % by volume.

The brandy turned into a syrupy mass whilst the cheap wine just froze ike a block of ice. The freezing point between alcohol and water is big enough to drive a railway engine through.

The only logical explanation is that both of the liquids contain additives which have bound the ethanol to the water in such a way that they cannot be separated by freezing. I know from personal experience that a wide range of chemicals including glycerine is added to improve taste in inferior wines. If glycerine is present in any quantity it will alter the physical characteristics of the liquid. In that situation the only resort is to distillation.

Distillation cannot produce absolute alcohol. Maximum is 95 % by volume. The remaining 5 % water has to be removed by chemical means.

Another possible explanation is that the ethanol contained is not from an accepted plant source. For example it could be produced from milk whey, or even wood chips. To the chemist alcohol is alcohol and is given the same chemical formula.

I believe this to be incorrect. The physiological effects of alcohol produced from fruits, grains and other plant parts differ from each other in their effect on the mental state. However, as a body they have a  totally different effect to that of alcohol produced by synthesis, rather than by fermentation.
Ivor Hughes

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These articles have been published in
Science In Africa