I thought it might be helpful to paste this section from the first PRS bulletin.
HOW TO GET STARTED IN ALCHEMY
This IS INTENDED FOR those who have read or studied about alchemy and are now preparing themselves to commence their work in the laboratory. As this will prove to be a most interesting and enlightening task, it should not be undertaken carelessly. First of all, the place selected for the work about to begin, is of importance. The space required is not large. A corner in the basement or in an attic, perhaps even a garage, will do, as long as there is a constant source of heat available. Cold water should also be close by for the cooling of the condenser tube. A few bottles and flasks and a mortar and pestle are desirable, if not necessary, to have the ingredients handy and protected, also for the grinding of the dried herbs and other substances to be worked with.
A table and chair just about complete the furnishings. The table or workbench should be so located that the heat and water source are very close by and handy, as the gas flame or electric heat, whichever is available. is constantly needed. For the gas flame, a Bunsen burner, or better still, a Fisher burner are recommended. As for the flasks, the flat-bottom type, called Erlenmeyer flasks, are best for us. For stoppers, both types, cork and rubber, are needed. A small mixed assortment will last a long time. A support to bring the flask over the flame, to hold it in a rigid position when used for distillation, also is required. It can either be bought or be homemade, as long as it meets the requirements.
Since the most important implements will, no doubt, be known by now to the beginner, we shall begin by getting the substance prepared, that is to be alchemically to be worked with. Let us choose a herb that is easily available. Say, Melissa (Melissa officinalis-lemonbalm). Since it is an important herb and any herbal supply house can furnish it, we shall use it g, an example in our first experiment.
The dried herb usually works best. The first step, is to ascertain that it is the correct herb. This may seem superfluous. but it is not. There is, for example, a difference between wild and garden sage in our work. The flowers of the wild sage again produce a different medication. Therefore always make sure the herbal substance involved is the desired one.
Next in procedure is the grinding of the herb. This may be accomplished by rubbing between the hands or by grinding it with the pestle in the mortar. The more minute the particles the easier the extraction. Having accomplished this, the next step is to place it in a flask, bottle or container, preferably glass, that can be well closed, over which is poured the menstrum to extract it with. The easiest way is to pour some strong alcohol (NEVER use denatured alcohol or Methanol), preferably brandy, over the herb in the flask or bottle, then close it tightly and put it on top, or near the furnace in the winter, or provide it with a gentle warmth not to exceed the temperature required for the hatching of chicken eggs. Allow at least one-half to one-third of the container to be empty above the herb immersed in the menstrum, so it has room for expansion and to relieve some of the pressure that may build up within the container.
After several days the menstrum will be colored green. The shade of the color will depend on the type of Melissa used and the strength and pureness of the alcohol. When sufficiently macerated, (this process is called maceration) the liquid is to be poured off into a clean glass container and the remaining herbal substance should be placed in an earthenware dish, and then be burnt to ashes. This is accomplished by taking it outdoors and by igniting it. The alcohol, which has saturated it, will catch fire and will burn the leftover of the herb, now called feces, to black ashes. As this will cause smoke and smell, similar to the burning of weeds in the fall, care should be taken not to do this in a room.
After the burning of the feces, as we shall call them from now on, they can be incinerated over the open flame in earthenware, or any fire resistant dish, until they become a light gray. An occasional grinding in the mortar, with the pestle, and then reburning, which we shall now call "calcining," will let the lightening of the feces become noticeable. When this state has been arrived at they should be removed from the fire and, while still warm, be placed into a flask, which has been preheated, so as not to break it from the sudden temperature change, over which is the poured-off essence to be added. The flask must again be tightly stoppered so that no alcohol fumes can escape and again be subjected to moderate heat for digestion
After several weeks, depending on the constantly retained degree of heat and the careful preparation before, the liquid must again be poured off. During this interval of digestion it is assumed that the feces have absorbed enough of the essence necessary for the formation of the required strength. With the feces left in the flask, it will need again to be stoppered and for another few weeks brought in contact with the moderate warmth, so essential for its concoction. After a few more weeks, the medication is then ready for use. It is absolutely harmless but of high potency and should be taken in minute amounts. A few grains in a glass of distilled water will produce exhilarating results. This is the most primitive and simplest form for the preparation of an herbal substance, according to the precepts of Alchemy.
As logically quite some time will have elapsed during the maceration period, the time interval has to be put to beneficial use. In the meantime we shall attempt to procure a pure menstrum from alcohol, or spirits of wine. Since there are various kinds of alcohol, we are chiefly concerned with but one, at the outset of our work. This is the spirit of wine. As wine generally contains less than 20% of alcohol by natural fermentation, this alcohol (spirits of wine) has to be extracted. Remember, apple wine, loganberry wine, etc., are not grape wines. Therefore, we stay with wine fermented from the grape. The tyro in our work has to go step by step to master eventually the essential fundamentals. At present we are concerned about learning all these steps ourselves gradually, as this is so important, especially later, in our more progressed work. We, therefore, take some pure unadultered wine, or grape brandy, and pour a sufficient amount into a flask for distillation. The amount depends on the flask at hand. It should never be filled more than half full. Then, in a rubber or cork stopper, two holes are to be inserted to fit tightly a thermometer and a bent glass tube. The thermometer shall not touch the wine and the bent glass tube reaches barely below the stopper. Now we need a condenser. This may be purchased from any chemical supply house. The bent glass tube from the flask is inserted into the stopper that closes the condenser opening.
We have formed now what is called a distillation train. The water to cool the condenser will have to be connected with a rubber tube from the tap, which needs an adapter for this purpose, to the condenser jacket, where it will flow out at the top opening back into the floor or sink drain. This will cool the vapor, or steam, that rises from the heated flask and drips out of the bottom end of the condenser into a receptacle. When all this is set up, the heat under the flask will have to be started and before long, the wine will begin to boil and the vapor begins to rise, goes up through the bent glass tube and will enter the condenser, where the cooling water around the inner tube will let it emerge at the end as a distillate, dripping into the receiver. The heat should be so regulated that the first distillation will not exceed 80 degrees centigrade. The thermometer will show what it takes on heat to maintain this temperature.
When about 15 or so drops have distilled over and the temperature has been regulated and the thermometer shows the same degree of heat, the receiver may be attached to the condenser end, to avoid evaporation of the alcohol and any possible ignition of the fumes. This, however, should be done only after the pressure in the distillation train has become equalized, and this will be after some of the liquid has come over. When the temperature begins to rise to above 85 degree celsius and all of the alcohol has come over but with it still some traces of water, the train may then be disconnected, after the flame has been extinguished and the vessels have cooled off enough to be safely handled.
The residue of the wine can now be discarded as it is of no further use to us at present. The distillate we save. Depending on the amount of wine used for the distillation we either have to distill some more or, if the alcohol in the receiver exceeds 100 milliliter, we can then begin with the rectification of the spirits of wine. As our distilled spirits of wine is not pure as yet it has to undergo several more distillations to become absolute alcohol. This is accomplished by redistillation, exactly as the first time, only the newly distilled wine is poured back every time into the distillation flask. There will always remain a small amount of cloudy residue after each distillation, which we discard, as it contains still some water. During these subsequent distillations the temperature has to be about 78 degrees ·centrigrade. Only during the last, approximately seven times are sufficient, should the temperature be 76 degrees. The final menstrum is more potent when we macerate a herb in it. As it contains no more traces of water it reaches the spiritual essence of the herb in shorter time and moi-e effectively.
There is another way to purif3r the spirits of wine with potassium carbonate anhydrous. This process we do not use in the beginning. Since with the purified spirits of wine we obtain better results in our work we shall always use it for the extraction in the herbal work.
(In the following installments we shall consider the extraction of herbs by distillation with yet another menstrum and continue until we end with the mineral and metallic essences.)
Start with the herbal extraction first, in order to familiarize yourself with the procedure. Too much time is being consumed when metallic extractions at first are undertaken. The process requires great knowledge and perseverance that can only be obtained after a greater length of time. You can rejoice exceedingly by preparing the alchemical herbal medications to bring your body in the desired condition to make it possible to be physically more enduring in your tedious work ahead. It is almost unbelievable what potent remedies can be prepared out of the Vegetable Kingdom, to restore the soundness of the human body. Not to mention what' the mineral (metallic) extractions make possible.
The "Vinegar" of Antimony is extracted out of living Antimony. Plain distilled water will extract it, which is a sour as the name indicates and the taste proofs. Do not use any acetous substances for its extraction, or you will not be able to tell which is the vinegar of Antimony and your menstrum, when it comes over. A Shoxlet Extractor worked very well. An Alundum, medium-sized Thimble was used.
Paracelsus has proven himself correct in all the experiments, so far accomplished. Once you have the key, his instructions are very precise. Allowing for the more and better adapted modern equipment, some results can even be obtained in shorter time intervals, as we can now in the laboratory thermostatically control, what formerly was tedious manual operation.