At herb school once, Michael had demonstrated making some herbal preparation (Hayden’s Viburnum Compound, maybe?) and was pouring it into little bottles for us. A very enthusiastic student, who always sat right up front, looked on with rapt attention and, bubbling over, exclaimed “I had heard that you were amazing at pouring!” He scowled his usual sarcastic scowl and seemed a little stunned. “Really? You heard that I’m good at pouring?” He rolled his eyes, shook his head and went back to the task.
That moment stuck with me, though. I had already by then spent many hours pouring for other herbalists. At the Natural Magick shop I learned the trick of using a sheet of paper rolled into a cone with an opening at the bottom to pour cut dried herbs into jars and bags. I’d improved the steadiness of my hand as I poured essential oils into tiny vials. I had learned how the rings on bottles affect the pour, and to rotate to just the right spot to get the best results. I learned the importance of patience, and how much time and effort can be saved by doing it slowly and well.
After herb school I worked at Texas Medicinals, and spent many more afternoons pouring and labeling batch upon batch of tincture formulas and salves and mosquito repellent. I think it was during that time that I learned to judge the viscosity of a particular preparation and adjust accordingly. One can’t pour an essential oil like a molten salve, or a glycerite like a tincture. Patience, attention.
Then one day I went out to visit Trina Sims in her apothecary and was delighted by her box of straws. She didn’t bother with pouring tiny quantities at all. She just stuck in a straw, closed the top with her finger, and then let the contents fall into the new bottle. Eureka! I loved it. For a single drop of essential oil, she’d use a toothpick! The porous wood would wick the essence up and then release it when it touched the inside of the new bottle. Straws and toothpicks entered my apothecary.
And then I took chemistry class. The first day of the laboratory component was all about procedures. We learned to pour using pouring rods! What? Pouring rods? Yes! How thrilling. As I look at images of pouring rods on google now, I’m learning a new way of using them, holding them in the same hand as the bottle one is pouring from, rather than using two hands. There’s always more to learn.
It’s a timeless act, one that connects me to all people and to herbalists specifically. In its eternal utility, it’s become my invitation to mindfulness. The focus and attention it requires in order to be done well pull me into the present moment, into the task at hand, into this moment now.