Be meticulous when drying herbs

I am frequently asked, “How do I dry herbs?” There is, as with every question, a simple or complex answer.

I am frequently asked, “How do I dry herbs?”

There is, as with every question, a simple or complex answer.

So here is the complex answer.

To begin, one has to pick the herbs at the right time. Even if the herbs are well dried, if they are picked prematurely or too late, the medicine in the plants will not be vigorous.

Here are some general guidelines for picking herbs and drying herbs.

To harvest flowers, I go into the garden just as the dew has dried and pick most of morning’s new blooms, always leaving a few for beauty. As I pick the flowers I talk to each plant about the medicine I am going to make.

Then I take the flowers to an upstairs bedroom which becomes a drying room every summer.

This room is north facing and its blinds are pulled. Light degrades medicine in plants, it is important to dry them in dark places.

The windows in the drying room are open. Air flow quickens the drying process. If plants take more than a week to dry, they can become mouldy and the medicine is generally lost.

In the drying room’s closet I have made shelves with a thin metal mesh. The thin mesh allows for air flow.

First I remove the flowers which are dry and put them in a jar. I store the jar in another closet. (Again once dried, it is important to store the dried herbs in the dark.)

Then I place the newly harvested flowers on the shelves. The flowers do not like to touch; they enjoy their own space.

Many common kitchen herbs, which are easy to grow in gardens, are useful in the apothecary as well.

Herbs like oregano, peppermint, basil, dill and lemon balms, need to be harvest at the same time as the flowers — in the morning, just after the dew has dried. They are picked just before the plant flowers.

The medicine in these plants is volatile oils. The oils are dispersed throughout the day by the heat of the sun. During the night the plant makes more oils. In the morning, the plants are at their most pungent.

It is also important not to harvest them after days of rain. The water washes the oils from the plant into the ground. This is part of the plant’s soil ecology. After heavy rain, the plant’s medicine tends to be more diluted.

However, as with plant medicine in general, if there has been a terrific thunder and lightening storm during the night, as there was the other night, it is a good day to harvest the plants.

The thunder and lightening fixes nitrogen in the soil, stimulating the plants growth. Or as First Nations say, wakes the plants up. This is the finest time to harvest plants.

These herbs are most easily dried in bundles. I always garble my plants before bundling them up. Garbling is the removal of any leaves which are brown or partially eaten. Perhaps some of the leaves have bug spit on them, this should be removed as any suspicious looking white spots which maybe insect eggs, fungi, etc.

Twist ties are the essential tool for bundling plants. Gather four or five stems being careful to leave room for air flow between the stocks. Bind the bottom of the stems tightly with a twist tie. Remember as the plants dry, the diameter of their stems will shrink. If the ties are not tight enough, the stems will fall from the bundle onto the floor.

Hang the bundles on a strings strung across the drying room. Leave them up until they are dry to touch but not brittle.

The dried leaves should be close to the colour they were when picked and have retained most of their scent.

Store the leaves whole in jars. Running fingers down the dried stem will strip the leaves from the stem without breaking them up.

If leaves are crumbled up or powdered, they loose their medicine quickly. Place the jar in a dark cupboard.

By next spring the herbs will be loosing their medicine.

Dried herbs, particular leaves and flowers, are not kept for more then a year. It’s beautifully economical that one can replace last year’s dried herb with this year plants so easily.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at abrah@shaw.ca

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