From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to the brave people fighting the fire so close to us.
It’s August 24, 2020 and just after 6:00 this evening, an immediate evacuation was ordered for some roads a few miles south of us that are up the hillside and closest to where there are flames. We did not sleep well, keeping one ear open for alerts beeping on the phone, and for the hi/low siren that would mean it’s time to go.
But no more evacuations were called overnight, and today is another day to survive. And while we are still here, there are 13 beds filled with flowering plants requiring our attention during breaks from the worst smoke. Everyday I wake up and I’m both grateful and amazed that we’re still here.
I’d like to focus this particular blog on the process that allows us to take many pounds of plant material and flowers, and turn it into medicine we consume. This is the very essence of the Home Dispensary. Having lots of plant material is wonderful, but as we get older, Karen and I smoke less. During Covid-19, which is primarily a respiratory illness, we are not smoking at all. So we need to turn this plant matter into something we can ingest without flame. Like tinctures and pills.
In the first blog of this series (man, that seems long ago), I wrote about the deal I made with Karen: I would learn to grow and she would learn to turn it into meds.
This daunting task has become one of the main jobs during her illness. She has had to adjust and change the way she makes medicine based on her level of pain in the process.
Just as I was a beginner to cannabis growth, Karen was a novice to this process. She initially did a lot of online reading, and she also poured through Ed Rosenthal’s “Beyond Buds,” book. The quantity of cannabis she was given that first year, over seven pounds, was initially daunting.
Karen made infused oils with the flowers, but soon realized that we would run out of room in the freezer to store the end product. She also had difficulty straining the oils, due to her arthritic condition. Wringing the oil out of a cheesecloth or nut milk bag hurt her, and demonstrated the weakness in her hands. She also discovered that the range of desired dosages between the two of us varied greatly. My effective dose is much higher than hers. We were also getting tired of eating medicated baked goods. We did not need extra sugar in either of our lives. That is why Karen switched to making feco (full extract cannabis oil). Feco gives her the versatility to create capsules or tinctures in whatever strength we need.
I again remind you that our exact dosing is not discussed here. It would be irresponsible to share that information. What either of us takes has no relationship to the ideal dose for you. That is a process you must go through on your own, cultivar by cultivar, because we all vary so wildly in our responses to these plants.
Feco is made by soaking dried cannabis flowers in ethanol for a set time (Karen usually soaks 1-24 hours, but this can vary, depending entirely on her schedule), and then straining and evaporating off the ethanol. The longer a plant soaks means absorbing more plant material. But to be clear, an hour soak will get all the cannabinoids you need. What remains is a highly concentrated, full extract cannabis oil that you can use in several ways. Karen adds feco to mct oil to make liquid tincture and body oil, and she adds it to organic coconut oil to make capsules.
The quantity of flower she uses has evolved over time to match the volume of ethanal wash she can reclaim. Thankfully, the EtOH Pro can handle large batches and therefore can proces 4-5 ounces of dried flowers per batch, yielding anywhere from 20-30g of feco at a time while reclaiming the alcohol for reuse. Yield varies depending on the quality of flower used. If using top shelf trimmed flowers, the yield is higher than using trim and shake. Feco is stored in sterile 10ml oral syringes in the refrigerator.
Karen’s go-to place for how to transform flowers into medicine using ethanol extraction is on the blog by extractcrafter.com. The machine Karen uses to reclaim the alcohol is found at extractcraft.com. They have two machines available. One can process up to 300ml at a time and the other can handle 4L.
Here are the steps Karen takes to make our medicine. It takes several days from start to finish. She uses the freezer during the soaking process because freezing will slow down the absorption of chlorophyll and plant waxes. Some batches are tended to in a timely manner and some batches are delayed, depending on her schedule and pain levels.
- DRY: First, spread the flowers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and leave it in the gas oven overnight. The pilot light is plenty warm with the purpose of completely drying out the flowers. It does smell up the house a little but we don’t mind. Please note, she does not decarb the flower until the last step.
- BREAK APART: Next, she sets up a half gallon mason jar with a jar funnel and breaks up the flowers by hand into the jar. It’s best not to use a grinder because it will release more chlorophyll into the wash. Karen wears nitrile gloves because the resin gets sticky and collects on the fingertips. She rubs every little bit from the gloves into the jar when finished. Sometimes she needs two jars for a batch and will split the flowers evenly into each jar. She tries not to fill the jars more than ⅔ full. The rest of these instructions are for just one jar but know that the method is the same no matter how many jars are used.
- FREEZE: She puts the jars of flower and 190 proof ethanol in the freezer for 24-48 hours.
- MIX TOGETHER: Next, she pours the frozen ethanol into the jar with the frozen flowers and gently swirls it around to distribute the liquid evenly and puts the jar back in the freezer, saving the empty ethanol jar to use again after the first strain. The length of time she keeps the flowers soaking in ethanol varies from an hour to overnight.
- 1ST STRAIN: Karen strains the contents of the jar using a buchner funnel set up with qualitative paper filters and vacuum to assist. Also for the first filter pass, she uses a seed sprouting screen on the jar to hold back the contents and also uses a wire mesh coffee strainer into the funnel to catch larger particles. There will be a lot of small particles that eventually slow down the filter process. If it gets too slow, she replaces the filter paper half way through the process. Pour the filtered wash from the flask into the saved, empty ethanol jar and put it into the freezer for the winterizing process. Wash and dry the funnel and flask to make them ready for step 7.
- WINTERIZE: She freezes the jar (or jars) of wash for at least 24 hours. If she gets busy or flared up, the time can be extended until time allows. The process of winterizing is used to remove most of the undesirable fats and waxes from the wash using the differences of their melting points.
- 2ND STRAIN: She strains using the buchner funnel and vacuum set up again. This time it will be fairly quick since most of the particulates were strained the first time. She won’t need the jar screen and mesh coffee filter. Karen tries to do this as quickly as possible so that the fats stay cold and do not melt during the process.
- RECLAIM: Using the EtOH Pro, Karen reclaims the ethanol from the wash, one half gallon at a time. She stops the process once the oil in the kettle is greatly reduced but still a bit runny so she can easily pour it into a glass beaker. Before filling the beaker, add a stir bar and piece of tape to write notes such as a label of contents and tare weight.
- EVAPORATE/DECARB: The next steps can take 10-24 hours depending on the heat level used. She places the beaker containing the stir bar and concentrated wash on an electric, hot plate with a magnetic stirrer. Set the temp to 65˚C for the first couple of hours to evaporate mostly ethanol. Then raise the temperature to 70-80˚C and decarb slowly. This process can take several hours. She uses the lowest temp possible to get the job done which should preserve some of the delicate terpenes. The decarb is finished when the bubbles stop forming. She sets a timer for every half hour to check the progress of the bubbles.
- USE OR STORE: When the decarb is complete, she weighs the beaker to calculate the weight of her yield in grams. From here she can decide to store a majority of the oil in a sterile syringe or mix immediately with another oil for making capsules or tinctures. She labels everything created with identifying information.
Karen felt it important to add that this entire job, while being done all the time to keep pace with our yield, is an ongoing, evolving process. She is still learning, trying new techniques, reading about what others do. She has come remarkably far from where she started. And she is getting ready to deal with a brand new crop of plants that we will begin to harvest next month.
I must thank Karen for her help in creating this blog. Full Disclosure: Much of this blog was written by Karen, and I simply edited and amended.
I also want to add a recommendation from both Karen and me: If you have a serious medical condition, we advise that you consult a MD with experience prescribing cannabis, prior to beginning the process of finding your own dose. We found such a doctor within a 90 minute drive from us. The two hours we spent with that doctor gave us an excellent starting point for learning how to dose ourselves.
As a way to wrap up this special blog, I’d like to include a gallery of current flower photos.
Ringo’s Gift in Bed 5. Day 11.
ACDC in Bed 7. Day 16.
ACDC in Bed 8. Day 9.
Ringo’s Gift in Bed 11. Day 4.
White Widow in Bed 13. Day 10.
Bubba God in Bed 14. Day 11.
Sour Tsunami in Bed 15. Day 31.
Rainbow Kush in Bed 16. Day 11.
ACDC in Bed 17. Day 16.
Rainbow Kush in Bed 18. Day 4.
Shiatsu Kush in Bed 19. Day 42.
CBD God in Bed 20. Day 12.
ACDC in Bed 22. Day 18.
Stay safe everyone. Unbelievably, we’re still here and the plants are fine, while fires burn out of control only about 5-7 miles from us. Today, the smoke blows due east from us. It’s mostly fog over our heads, and no smoke detected at all. It won’t last, but we’ll take it, and we’re still here.
Survive and vote. See you next Tuesday, the first blog for September, the month where harvest will begin.
65℉ 18.33℃ 80% humidity (yes, I’ll be spraying Regalia later)