Growing your own herbs can be so natural, economical and rewarding. The dried flowers and leaves of many herbs, such as rosemary, sage, lavender, mint, and lemon balm are suitable for many uses throughout your home. Most herbs are easy to grow and hardy, add beauty to your yard and garden. You can use herbs to add flavor and nutritional value to many of your favorite dishes, and as I previously wrote about the benefits of using them for cleaning your home. So the big question is how do you harvest and dry herbs?
Harvesting most herbs are fairly easy. The leaves and stems can be cut into stalks just before or during flowering. That is when the essential oils are at their peak. Flowers are at their best at either during the bud stage or in full bloom. Rose, lavender, and rosemary blossoms are all harvested this way and are great to add to powdered cleansers.
Roots, rhizomes, and bulbs should be taken from biennials and perennials herbs when their oils and nutrients are not being used for the plant’s growth. This is in the late summer or fall when the plant begins to die back and they are storing nutrients underground for the winter, or in early spring as the first leaves begin to emerge.
5 Ways To Preserve And Dry Herbs:
- Drying The Old Fashion Way –Drying herbs The old-fashioned way is pleasurable because you get the wonderful aroma throughout your house. Cut your choice of several herbs stalks at the end of the summer to hang in your kitchen to dry. You need a perfectly controlled climate or the moisture can cause molding and then you have to start all over again (attics, basements and garages are not normally recommended to dry herbs). Hang the herbs upside down in bunches tied tightly with ribbons or strings (they will shrink during drying) in an area with good air flow, sheltered from direct sunlight, and any extreme temperatures. It a good idea to tag them with the name of the plant. In 2-3 weeks the herbs should feel dry and the leaves can then be stripped away from the stalk and crumbled into glass jars. It’s a good idea not to use plastic bags because of the volatile oils in the herb can interact with the chemicals in the plastic and cause toxicity.
- Food Dehydrator — This is a great way to dry herbs because it is quick and easy, in fact only takes a few hours. The plants dry evenly (as long as you don’t pack them too tightly) and quickly which preserves the essential oils. NOTE: It’s not recommend to dry herbs in the oven because they will tend to scorch and dry too quickly which makes the oils evaporate from the constant heat and radiation.
- Infusions — These are like very strong teas. You steep the herbal material including the flowers, in boiling water for at least for 10 minutes, then strain and pour into clean containers, preferably glass. A general guideline is 1 tablespoon of herb to each cup of water. Infusion can be used in place of water; rosemary, thyme, and oregano infusion can be very useful. You can keep them in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks when using them for making cleaning purposes, but if you’re using them for medicinal purposes it is best to make them fresh daily.
- Decoctions — are made to extract the essential oils from heavier materials, such as the roots and bark. Herbs such as gingerroot, cinnamon bark, and vanilla beans are excellent examples that yield their beneficial properties when prepared this way. Simmer the herbal material 10-30 minutes and then stain the liquid. Use about 1 ounce of herb to 1 cup water. They also will last 2–3 weeks stored in the refrigerator. The process of infusion is distinct from decoction, which involves boiling the plant material, or percolation, where the water passes through the material.
- Tinctures or Extracts — 1:1 solution of alcohol and water. You can also use vinegar but use it full strength. Pack the herbal material in a jar and completely cover with 50% alcohol solution and 50% water or vinegar (100% solution). Let stand on a sunny shelf for 2-3 weeks, turning the jar once a day to redistribute its content.
NOTE: You can use tinctures in cleaning formulas but be careful to add only 1/2 ounce at a time. The alcohol content can be irritating to the lungs and skin.
Nature’s way is the herbal way — herbs have so many uses — for aroma, cleaning, natural and alternative health, cooking, in every area of our life and home we can find a solution and purpose with herbs. They are such a precious commodity that we need to utilize to live a green and healthy lifestyle.
It can be fun and satisfying to try making your own herbal solutions and even if you can’t grow your own herbs many times you can buy fresh herbs at farmers markets or natural health foods stores. You can choose the method that works best for you or you can just purchase essentials oils or herbs already dried, just make sure they are organic or you know the source and growing practices of the herbs to protect you and your family from pesticides and toxic ingredients. Whatever way you choose, herbs can add so much pleasure and have so many health benefits for your family and the health of our environment.
Live Green, Live Natural, Live Organic!
Other Sources: The Naturally Clean Home Author: Karyn Siegel-Maier