During the Ming Dynasty, the Chinese developed several methods to accelerate this process. [ref http://www.phantomleaves.com/page/page/4079421.htm ]
Today there are several methods listed on the web and I've tried them all with mixed results. There are so many variables involved with the types of leaves, and levels of freshness.
The instructable presented here is the result of a few trial and errors.
Step 1: The Ingredients
1/2 Cup Sodium Carbonate, aka Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda
2 Cups Water
1 Cup Liquid Bleach for whitening (optional)
1 Metal Pan
Fresh leaves that have a waxy appearance similar to Magnolia leaves
Dried non waxy leaves.
Soft brush or toothbrush
One curious cat if you have one.
SAFETY - Please wear your gloves at all times as sodium carbonate has a pH of 11, meaning it will irritate your skin badly. Also read the Caution label on the Arm & Hammer product in case you splash it in your eyes or swallow it accidently.
Step 2: Bring the Water & Sodium Carbonate Mixture to Boil
Set your pan on the stove top.
Pour in 2 cups of water
Stir in 1/2 cup of sodium carbonate until dissolved
When mixture boils reduce heat to simmer and add leaves.
Step 3: Simmer Between 1 - 3 Hours
I found that 1.5 - 2 hours is about a good time for most leaves to be ready.
You can test for readiness by lifting out a leaf on the back of a big spoon and the flesh should look pulpy and in some cases starting to separate from the veins.
The first image is the usual disaster you will encounter. Some leaves don't lend themselves to this process. Just keep trying different kinds at different simmer times and you'll get the hang of it.
Once you feel comfortable the leaf is ready, transfer it to a clear bowl with a thin layer of water.
Step 4: The Delicate Part
Turn the leaf over and repeat the process.
You have to be very delicate with the brush or else you'll damage the fine veins.
Once your done then carefully lift the leaf in a large spoon and gently rinse with water.
Step 5: Optional Step - Bleach
Step 6: Dry
Recommend pressing the leaves between two sets of napkins as they dry so they will be flat.
Once they are fully dried you can mount them between framed glass and hang them as art.
Some folks have electroplated them to make earrings.
Look forward to hearing everyones feedback and improvements as there is plenty of room!