Homeschooling Ideas, Chemistry – Steam Distillation of Wild Plants to Make Household Cleaners, Soaps, etc…

My son’s favorite subject is Chemistry. Earlier this year we purchased a steam distillation setup. No, we’re not cooking up moonshine, we are using to extract essential oils and hydrosol from wild plants we collect.  J

Collecting  and identifying wild edible and medicinal plants has been a home school subject for years that we have enjoyed but this year we took it to a new level. We purchased a nice steam distillation set up and thus began our adventure of becoming mad scientists. Mwhahahahah….

Our setup features two 2000ml flasks. One produces the steam and the other acts as the biomass flask.  The glass tubing extends to nearly the bottom of the second flask so that all of the plant matter shares in the steam. From there the steam rises up to the graham condenser whose inner helix coil is being kept cool by constantly circulating coolant water. The liquid collects in the separatory funnel where the essential oil will rise to the top in most cases. Only a few wood and root oils are heavier than water and will sink to the bottom. The hydrosol can be drained off by turning the stopcock on the separatory funnel. The hydrosol can be kept for soap making and many other purposes.

A typical day of distillation goes like this,

  1. Go out and collect the plant or plants you would like to distill. We usually choose plants with a strong scent like pine needles, rosemary or lavender for our purposes.
  2. Break up the plant material, load it into the bioflask. Don’t pack it too tight or the steam will have a hard time moving through the material.
  3. Add water to the other steam producing flask, connecting hoses to water source and drain as directed on your setup.
  4. Start you engines.
  5. Keep a close eye on it as the steam collects into the separatory funnel.
  6. Let the water completely cool then watch as the oil rise to the top of the funnel.
  7. Drain the hydrosol from the bottom and use it to make household cleaners, soaps, air freshener, laundry detergent… etc.…

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On my honor . . .

Woke up this morning ...

 Repeat after me . . .

On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.

That, kids, is the Scout Oath, the words that every Boy Scout recites with two or three fingers pressed against his forehead.

The “morally straight” part almost got settled this year when the Scouts finally ruled that gay boys would henceforth be worthy of joining the club. I don’t think the founders of this organization ever intended “morally straight” to mean “morally heterosexual,” and now they’ve halfway straightened it all out. I say halfway because they still don’t allow gay adults to be Scout leaders. So now you can be gay and a Scout until you reach adulthood, at which time you must amazingly…

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Atheist Homeschooling Mother Living in the Bible Belt.

I won’t lie, it is a challenge. I don’t get to participate in the Homeschool groups in my home town. They are ALL religious based. When I go into events created for homeschooling families my blue hair and my son’s mohawk are dead giveaways that we aren’t your run of the mill conservative christian family. When my son comes home from the park and says kids were bullying him because he said he didn’t believe in Jesus and now no one is his friend, I struggle for what I can say to comfort him. Life as an Atheist in a small southern town can be a pain in the ass.

Our local Science Center has a special homeschool day we visit a couple times a month. This is my son’s favorite subject so he thrives in a science based environment. Sometimes things slip out that make it pretty obvious where my son stands in his beliefs. You can feel the glaring eyes when he mentions an artifact being from 14,000 years ago or *gasp* predating Christianity.

My son is a freethinker from birth. I made it a point to not press my own personal beliefs on him and I let him decide for himself what path he wanted to follow. I have close Christian family members that attempted to convert him at an early age, but reason stepped in and nothing they offered in the form of religion made sense or swayed his belief in non-belief. Even some things that I personally believed in he doubted, a true skeptic. Without hard proof, it just doesn’t exist in his world. I respect that.

The kids in our neighborhood have grown to be much more tolerant towards other beliefs since we moved here. They shunned him at first and excluded him for not being “one of them” but now they play like all kids do, keeping religion out of the scenario. It can be shocking for a child that has lived their entire life only knowing one way to think and only one path. When something disrupts that it can be challenging to keep everyone respectful, but my son did a great job not judging them and allowing them to absorb what being different means, which is not a lot when it comes to being a kid or an adult.

Homeschool Groups can be a different story. All of the groups here are extreme right wing literalist Christian based groups. We just can’t fit in when it comes to Science or History curriculum. I honestly wish we could. I wish these families could be open to their kids hearing alternative belief structures and make their own decisions. My son was exposed to all world religions, atheism and agnosticism throughout his childhood. I feel this is important for the child to make their own path and be tolerant of others. He may not be Buddhist, but if he meets someone who is he doesn’t judge them for their choice and he could even carry on a conversation about Buddhism. I love this about him.

We plan on moving in a few years to an area with more like minded people. He is noxious to do this. Once a year we visit and he plays with kids more accepting of him and that he can carry on deep intellectual conversations about our existence. In the meantime, we will continue to update this blog with our challenges, frustrations, accomplishments and homeschooling adventures.