Healing Herbs!

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Herbs have caught the imagination of mankind ever since its advent on the earth. They have been admired for their beauty and fragrance, and savored for their flavor, for thousands of years. Moreover, they have been used as medicines for common ailments and injuries like sore throat and battle wounds, as well as more difficult health conditions like hypertension and heart diseases, since the earliest of times.

All ancient systems of medicine have been based upon the use of herbs. All ancient civilizations of the world – Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Indian, Chinese, as well as Greek and Roman – are known to have used herbs, not only for the treatment of various diseases but also for revitalizing the body and mind. Plants were even believed to possess mystical or supernatural powers to cure various ailments. It was as a result of these beliefs that many superstitions also grew round plants and herbs, like the belief in witches deriving their power from various herbal potions which was at its peak in Britain in the Middle Ages. Ironically, herbs were used even to counteract the effects of these evil powers. Garlic, hyssop, wormwood, all fell in this category of herbs.

Even in modern times, herbs have taken their rightful place as the ill effects of processed food and prolonged medication have come to be realized. Apart from their use as cures for various diseases in alternative systems of medicines, they are also being used in foods, beverages and cosmetics. In fact, they are a very important part of the shift towards a healthier lifestyle that recognizes their importance in maintaining and enhancing our health.

The way of using herbs may differ, but the purpose of using them always remains the same – to make them interact with our life processes taking place within our bodies. Whether they are used as food or medicine, for fragrance or for beauty, they should be used in a way that the body absorbs their active constituents in order to benefit from their properties. When the body absorbs these active constituents, they are circulated through blood to all its cells to positively affect the whole system. The effect of these active constituents is fundamentally different from that of modern medicine. While modern medicine imposes its effects on the body’s inherent healing mechanism and thus disturbs it, herbal constituents restore and strengthen it so that the healing is natural and does not produce any long term negative effects.

There are several ways to make the active elements of these herbs interact with the life processes within the body. Most commonly, they are orally consumed so that the digestive system may absorb them and take them to the circulatory system. But they can also be taken in by the body in other ways. For example, their aromas can be inhaled through the nose to take in the vapors of their essential oils. They can be applied on the skin or the scalp in the form of poultices or through cosmetic products from where they are taken in by the skin pores. In the form of liquid extracts, they can also be dropped into the eyes or nose for local benefits.

Usually herbs have no harmful side effects, but we can’t generalize the statement. Some people may experience slight problems consequent upon their use. Therefore, when using a new herb, you should try it as a single product, and wait and watch for its effects. If no problem is experienced, you can increase the dosage cautiously. Further, you should remember that everybody is different, and the herb which benefited some may not show the same benefits on you. Finally, you should never replace proper medication with herbs, if you are facing a medical emergency or suffering from a serious chronic condition.

Apart from the medicinal benefits, herbs are of great value in maintenance of general health and well-being. They are rich, natural sources of vitamins, minerals, and other micro-nutrients. Some of them are delicious to taste, like betel leaf or mint, some others extremely difficult to tolerate, yet all of them are full of beneficial properties in their different spheres.

Herbs positively influence blood circulation and aid in detoxifying the system in a natural way. Because of detoxifying effect, they alleviate the effects of food poisoning. Besides, they also aid digestion and thus enhance the body’s ability to absorb various nutrients derived from food consumed.

Herbs improve the functioning of various internal organs of the body which results in correction of the hormonal imbalances. Their regular use improves the functioning of the immune system which results in reduced cases of seasonal infection like common cold or cough. They also soothe the mucous membranes which reduces inflammation and internal pain. On the whole, they strengthen the body in several ways.

Herbs are used both, internally and externally. The internal use involves taking them in the form of tea, or infusion of tinctures, or for gargles and mouthwashes. The external use mostly consists of massage with the essential oils, taking herbal baths or saunas, or applying in the form of creams or poultices.

The same herb can be used for different benefits by altering the way of its use. For example, flax seeds taken with cold water, morning and evening, act as a good laxative. But when applied on the skin after dissolving them in hot water, the same seeds counter skin infections.

However, care is required in selecting and procuring herbs to be used as medicines. If a herb is not pure, it won’t give the desired benefits. So, always buy them from an authentic and trusted dealer. Further, if a herb is not used in the correct way, it may again not be as beneficial. For example, herbal infusions (teas) should be taken hot and should have been prepared using 1 tbsp of the dried herb with a cup of water. However, if fresh herbs are used, the amount should be doubled. If these instructions are not followed, the tea may lose much of its effectiveness.

Many people believe that herbs, being natural products, will not be harmful even if taken in larger than required quantities. It’s true that the human body is often able to metabolize natural plant constituents even in large quantities, but again we cannot generalize the statement. Some herbs, taken in high doses, may indeed be toxic and therefore sufficient care has to be taken even while using herbal products.

Today, scientific research is increasingly confirming what was known to our ancestors from experience. While plants continued to provide us pleasure with their beauty, color and fragrance, and enhance the taste of our food by their flavor, we seemed to have become oblivious of their importance as medicines. It is indeed a matter of great satisfaction that we have now rediscovered this particular aspect of herbs which has the potential of providing the greatest benefit to mankind.

Herbs – The Basics

Herbs have always been the basic source of medication in all the cultures across the world. We find mention of herbs and their uses in history, literature, the Bible as well as several other religious texts. What is more significant is the fact that the Bible lets us know that ‘God has provided man with all herb bearing seeds that is upon the surface of the earth and all the trees, wherein is the fruit of a tree producing seed, it should be considered as meat by us’. For thousands of years, man has been using the herbs to cure his ailments. Most importantly, compared to other types of medications, herbs are safe for use and very consistent having little or no side effect whatsoever.

First and foremost, it needs to be mentioned that term ‘herb’ denotes plants that of non-woody nature. In contemporary times, the term ‘herbs’ means any plant or part of a plant that is used to flavor foods or in the form of medications. Herbs are almost present everywhere. For instance, they are present even in your kitchen – the mustard on your table as well as several other spices that line your kitchen shelf originate from herbs. Actually, there are numerous instances of herbs in our daily life. Herbs are often described as wonders of Mother Nature.

Since the prehistoric days, people have always been seeking help via the herbs, as they are natural resources. In fact, herbs are dissimilar to contemporary medications that result in numerous side effects and they possess the aptitude to restore the defenses of the body, thereby, assisting the body to heal itself without any side effects.

All herbs are natural medications and they have been the natural medicines for the humans all the times. While writing about herbs, it is essential to mention the different types of herbal medicine systems that are in use even to this day – for instance, European, Chinese, American, Ayurveda, Western and Native are the most established systems. All these systems help to cure the body as a whole and each of them make use of the force of the herbs to function as required in collaboration with the natural energy in every individual. Therefore, it is advisable that you should use herbs to possess natural, vital energy to undertaking things that you take please in, to possess the capability to sustain the normal immune system of your body to protect yourself from different ailments.

Precisely speaking, the herbs provide us with numerous health benefits. Here we shall discuss about a few of them. Herbs are effective in cleansing as well as sanitizing the body with no side effects whatsoever. In addition, herbs help to control and nature the glands so that they function as usual. Herbs also enclose high levels of different vitamins, minerals as well as other nutrients that nurture as well as build the body. Herbs also enable the body to possess additional vigor/ energy so that it is able to heal itself. Last, but not the least important, herbs encourage the good bacteria present in our body naturally.

Herbs actually absorb various substances from the soil and subsequently transform them into minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates and fats that are used by our body for nourishment as well as healing itself. By making use of the herbs or whole plants, we soak in all the essential ingredients they enclose. Almost all herbs enclose numerous active substances, one among which normally dominate and help us to decide on its choice as a medication. Different other curative factors of the herbs ought not to be ignored since they also assist the body to absorb its benefits and safeguard against side effects.

It may be noted that the herbs always function in synergy and, hence, combining them improves the properties of each herb, facilitating to obtain better curing to the body. For instance, a good combination of herbs like hops, valerian and passiflora works wonderfully to induce sleep. All the three herbs mentioned here possess relaxant attributes, while passiflora focuses on facilitating sleep. At the same time, valerian helps to unwind the tense muscles, while hops have a distinctive impact on calming the nervous system.

In the study of herbs (herbology), herbs are supposed to possess changing combinations of properties and extent of each property also. Herbs have the ability to heat as well as dry or heat and moisturize. In addition, herbs may be cooling and drying or cooling and moistening. For instance, one herb may possess highly warming qualities, while another one may simply be somewhat warming. But, both these herbs would be regarded as heating herbs.

The manner in which these attributes are allocated to the plants is quite simple. The herbs that possess heating properties are thought to generate warmth inside the body. Plainly speaking, all the aromatic herbs, for instance, caraway and anise, are deemed to be warming. Interestingly enough, even several bitter herbs, for example Oregon grape, are also categorized as herbs possessing heating properties.

Conversely, cooling herbs are basically those herbs, which medical practitioners consider, that take away the heat from the body or some body part. Generally, herbs that enclose extremely volatile natural oils, for instance spearmint or wintergreen, are classified as cooling herbs. Borage is another example of a cooling herb and, like other cooling herbs, is also referred to as refrigerants. In order to obtain some notion or awareness regarding what a refrigerant actually is, you may imagine of a scorching summer day and subsequently envisage a slice of cucumber or watermelon. In fact, cucumber and watermelon are among the two best refrigerant foods.

It may be noted that the categorization of an herb as drying or moistening also largely depends on the individual properties of a particular herb. Any herb which is effective in augmenting urine passage, for instance bearberry, is considered to be a drying herb. Similarly, all herbs possessing astringent properties, for instance sage or oak bark, too are also known as drying herbs. Generally, aromatic herbs, such as caraway or anise, are also believed to be drying herbs. However, there are exceptions to this general rule too. For instance, fennel is considered to be a moistening herb – it is known to augment milk secretion in lactating women. If an herb is demulcent (soothing) or mucilaginous, it is also considered to be a moistening herb. Other herbs that are also classified as moistening herbs include marshmallow, flax seed, slippery elm and licorice.

The European herbalists had developed a novel way of understanding the properties of different herbs. What they actually did was to imagine that each herb had a specific activity on the different parts of our body. Precisely speaking, they started defining specific activity hubs within the body for every herb. For instance, cayenne pepper, which was categorized as a heating herb, was identified as having an affect on the circulatory system since it was found to enhance the blood flow, particularly to the capillaries close to the skin’s surface. Possibly this clarifies the reason why people who inhabit extremely hot climatic conditions generally use hot peppers in their culinary. In effect, ingestion of hot peppers assists them to disperse the body heat by flowing it to the surface of the skin, where it results in cooling in the form of perspiration and evaporates, while the heat is spread out into the nearby atmosphere.

Another good example of heating herb is ginger which is said to possess the same properties as those of cayenne pepper. Nevertheless, the center of activity of ginger is described as basically lying in the internal organs. According to the conventional European medicine system, ginger is believed to generate a type of heat that remains within the body. Hence, ginger is often used by people during the winter months and in more proportions in the cool northern climatic conditions. People inhabiting these regions use ginger as a medication to treat colds as well as to reinforce the bladder and the kidneys. The basic dissimilarities between cayenne pepper and ginger are owing to the different activity centers of each herb within the body.

Making issues further complicated, it may be noted that herbs are not confined to merely one activity center. There are several herbs that people use for treating numerous dissimilar problems at the same time and instantly, for instance headaches, acne, weariness, constipation and indigestion. The main activity center for such herbs may possibly be the gall bladder and liver, where they would be considered to result in augmenting bile secretion. In fact, the hypothesis goes something like this: enhanced secretion of bile augments digestion of fats and oils, which, in turn, enhances the complexion. Increase bile secretion will also facilitate in easing chronic constipation. Rinsing out the colon is also a vital function.

Build up of toxic substances in the bowels owing to poor decomposition of ingested foods and their elimination from the body also adds to the common toxic condition that may lead to several of the symptoms mentioned earlier in this article. The toxic substances present in the colon are taken up by the blood and, hence, the cleaner the colon will be, the purer will be the blood. It may be noted that the liver being the natural filter of the body, facilitates in straining toxic substances from the blood. If the pace of the liver’s activity is enhanced, it will result in the blood containing lesser impurities or toxic substances. Like Oregon grape, there are a number of herbs that have their activity center in the liver and gall bladder and they influence the body in several ways – most are discussed above.

Hypothesis like these are unsophisticated in contemporary medical terms and mostly unproven by medical research. However, traditional herbology or the study of herbs need not deal with curing from the viewpoint of analysis done in the laboratories. In fact, herbology has always been founded on experimental observation of people as individuals.

It may be noted that the earliest nations or cultures, for instance, the Egyptians, were extremely proficient in using herbs appropriately. An antique text written in 1500 B.C. mentions about over 700 herbal medications, counting herbs like aloe vera, caraway seeds, garlic and poppy. Nevertheless, people in China have been practicing herbal medication for more than 5000 years. In fact, the Chinese are renowned for their understanding as well as use of ginseng. Hence, there is no reason to be apprehensive to use herbs in your kitchen. On the contrary, you should discuss about herbs and their significance in our life. There are infinite other subjects that endorse the gainful consequences of using herbs, inclusive of the quality of herbs, different herbal formulations, procedures to prepare herbal medication, the nutritional content of herbs as well as the dosage of herbal medicines. At the same time, it is important to always bear in mind that using herbs or any product containing herbs, denotes a more vigorous life. Therefore, take pleasure in the herbs, vitamins, aromatherapy and your life!

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Let’s Create Some Herbal Remedies – When Cold and Flu Season Arrives.

These two recipes are prepared as teas but are not taken in your tea cup – they help with the discomfort of flu season in other ways.

Winter Inhalation

living-herbs-for-cold-flu-thymeThis traditional herbal steam helps open your sinuses, discourages bacterial and viral growth, and reduces pain and inflammation. Remember to stay a comfortable distance from the steaming pot to avoid burning your face.

8 – 12 teaspoons fresh or 4 teaspoons dried eucalyptus leaf {Eucalyptus globulus}

2 – 3 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried peppermint leaf

2 – 3 tablespoons fresh or 1 tablespoon dried thyme herb

3 cups purified water

Essential oils of the herbs above {optional}

Place the eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme, and water in a saucepan and stir to thoroughly combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and uncover. Drape a large towel over your head and the saucepan, forming a steam-filled tent, and inhale the medicated steam deeply for 5 minutes or so. Repeat several times daily as needed, warming the decoction each time just to the boiling point.

You can enhance the inhalation by adding 6 or 7 drops of essential oil to the brew after you remove it from the heat. Try oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and thyme, and add one or more as desired. {Because essential oils can cause dizziness and light-headedness, do not use enhanced inhalations more than two or three times a day, and discontinue use if redness of the mucous membrane develops.}

A Soothing Throat Gargle

herbs for cold and fluThis decoction soothes throats that are sore from illness or hoarse from overuse; it’s ideal for public speakers or teachers even when it isn’t winter. You will notice that this recipe calls for simmering above-ground portions of the plant that are usually steeped; this is because you will be extracting deeper compounds that are only somewhat water-soluble.

5 -7 tablespoons fresh or 2 1/2 tablespoons dried echinacea leaf

4 – 6 tablespoons fresh or 2 tablespoons dried lemon balm herb

3 – 5 tablespoons fresh or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried sage leaf

3 – 5 tablespoons fresh or 1 1/2 tablespoons dried licorice root

2 tablespoons dried witch hazel bark {Hamamelis virginiana} or marshmallow root

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh or dried usnea lichen, if available {Usnea spp.}

5 cups purified water

Place the echinacea, lemon balm, sage, licorice, witch hazel or marshmallow, and optional usnea in a saucepan. Pour the water over the herbs and stir to thoroughly combine. Cover the pan, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and steep for 10 minutes, covered. Strain and compost the herbs. You can make a larger batch and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Gargle with 1/4 cup of the warm or room-temperature tea four or five times a day; swallowing the liquid after gargling will provide extra benefits. For portability, put some in a little dropper bottle, and gargle with 3 or 4 droppersful for 30 seconds as a quick fix for an irritated throat.

Let’s Create Some Herbal Medicine – Syrups.

herbal syrupSyrups are useful for coating your throat and are helpful if you {or your children} have trouble swallowing capsules or pills. Any herbal tea can be concentrated and added to a sweet base to create a syrup. Because this process concentrates the herb’s active constituents, a syrup can be very effective at treating and healing a wide range of ailments, especially upper respiratory infections and sore throats.

After making your syrup, bottle it, label it, and store it in the refrigerator. If no preservatives are added, the syrup will probably last 2 to 3 weeks. You can add a few drops of an essential oil or vitamin C powder {1/2 to 1 level teaspoon to 1 cup of syrup} to increase its refrigerated shelf life by 1 to 2 weeks or even longer. If it’s impractical to store the syrup in the refrigerator, add the vitamin C powder and grain alcohol so that the finished product is 25 percent alcohol and 75 percent syrup. These additions are particularly helpful for keeping syrup viable and safe for consumption when you are traveling. Take 1 teaspoon two to three times daily or as needed.

Sweet Syrup Bases and Herbal Syrups:

Sweet Syrup Base: If you are using sugar for the sweet syrup base, you will want to make a simple syrup by dissolving 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup of water by simmering it for 30 to 40 minutes. Add this syrup to the strained tea. Add the vitamin C or alcohol and bottle, label, and store your finished syrup.

To create an alternate sweet syrup base using honey, you can combine 1/2 cup each of honey and barley malt, or combine 3/4 cup of honey and 1/4 cup of glycerin; either of these two additions will create a smooth consistency.

Herbal Syrups:  If you are including scented leaves and flowers such as anise hyssop, basil or tulsi, catnip, lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, oregano, peppermint, sage, spearmint, or thyme to make syrup, keep in mind that the plant material itself shouldn’t be boiled. These aromatic herbs contain volatile oils that will be lost when subjected to the high heat of boiling. You will want to add them to the liquid after you have finished simmering it, and steep them for 20 minutes.

If you are only using aromatic herbs, follow these guidelines for making syrup: Reduce the water from 5 cups to 1 1/2 cups and steep your herbs for 20 minutes. Strain and compost them, and then add the sweet syrup base and optional essential oils.

Basic Syrup:

Use the amounts below for each cup of finished syrup; you can double or triple the recipe.

1 – 1 1/2 cups fresh or 1/2 – 2/3 cup dried herbs

5 cups purified water

1 cup of a sweet syrup base, such as dehydrated cane juice, sugar, or honey

Essential oils {optional}

1/2 – 1 level teaspoon vitamin C powder or 1/3 cup alcohol {optional, to preserve}

Blend or process the herbs to a coarse or fine consistency. Combine the herbs with the water in a saucepan, stir, and gently simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep for 20 minutes longer. Strain and compost the herbs. Pour the liquid back into the pan. Simmer and reduce the heat, and gently simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. {If you’re using sugar, add it halfway through the reducing process to make sure that it dissolves and thickens properly.} Let the mixture cool until warm, and add the sweet syrup base. Add a few drops of the optional essential oils and vitamin C powder or alcohol. Bottle, label, and store.

Garlic Syrup:

An excellent way to take garlic as an antibiotic preventative when a cold is coming on.

2 – 5 cloves of garlic

1 cup sweet syrup base

5 drops oregano essential oil {optional, for an antibacterial boost} or 2 or 3 drops peppermint or orange essential oil {for a flavor lift}

In a blender or food processor, combine the garlic, sweet syrup base, and essential oil. Blend or process until creamy. Bottle, label, and store.

Cough Syrup:

This tasty syrup coats your throat, reduces irritation, and calms a persistent cough.

3 – 4 teaspoons fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried echinacea leaf, flower, and/or root

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh or 3/4 teaspoon dried licorice root

2 heaping teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried marshmallow root

3 – 4 teaspoons fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried orange peel

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons fresh or 3/4 teaspoon dried sage leaf

3 – 4 teaspoons fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme herb

5 cups purified water

1 cup sweet syrup base

Optional Ingredients:

2 – 3 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried wild cherry bark {Prunus serotina}

3 – 4 teaspoons fresh or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried horehound leaf {Marrubium vulgare}; this herb adds extra cough-reducing power, but also has a bitter taste}

7 drops orange essential oil

3 drops peppermint essential oil

Pinch of stevia per cup of finished liquid {optional, for sweetness}

If you are using fresh herbs, whir them in a blender, and if you are using dried, grind the herbs to a coarse or fine consistency. In a saucepan, simmer the echinacea, licorice, marshmallow, orange peel, and optional cherry bark in  the water, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the sage, thyme, and optional horehound. Steep the entire mixture for 20 minutes longer, then strain and compost the herbs. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan, return it to a boil, reduce the heat, and gently simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Let it cool until it’s warm and add the sweet syrup base and the optional essential oils. Stir well, bottle, label, and store.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Harvesting, Drying, Preserving and Storing Your Herbs.

Now for the heart of the medicinal herbs! Knowing how to properly harvest your medicinal herbs will increase the potency and efficacy of the preparations you create.

Let’s understand the terminology used to describe the parts of herbs {plant parts} when harvesting.

  • Berries and Seeds: These are the fruits of the plant, harvested when they are fully ripe {usually when they have turned a rich, deep color and have softened and matured}. Rub or brush away old flower parts and the remains of calyxes {plant material between the berry and the stem}, and halve larger seeds and berries to speed up their drying time.
  • Buds: This means just the flower in its unopened state. Harvest it without any stem.
  • Flower: Harvest flowers by removing the whole flowering head, with little or no stem attached. The ideal time to harvest is just as the flowers are opening, but you can collect fully open flowers, as well. When they have aged to the point where their petals are drooping, however, their medicine is not as strong. Do not wash flowers unless they are visibly dirty.
  • Flowering Tops: This term denotes the entire flowering portion of the herb, still attached to a few inches of plant stem and leaves. The tops are best for medicine when in early to full flower, and even in late flower, in a few cases {such as St. John’s wort}.
  • Herb: This refers to the aerial parts of the plant: leaves, stems, flowers, and buds {if present} and includes only the flexible portion of the stem {which usually means the top 6 to 9 inches of the plant}. The herb is at its most potent when it’s in early flower through the full flowering stage. Once it has started going to seed, the plant’s potency has already started to decline. Do not wash herbs unless they are quite dirty. These aerial parts are usually chopped or ground for medicine making, and the thickest part of the stem is often discarded after drying.
  • Leaf: Take the leaf and petiole {the tender stem holding the leaf}, and in some cases a very minimal amount of plant stem, if it’s fleshy. Leaves that have some insect damage are fine to use, but discard those that are browning or yellowing. Dust off the leaves and lightly rinse them if they’re dirty, blotting them dry before you make your medicine. Leave them whole for drying.
  • Root or rhizome: This refers to any below-soil roots, rhizomes {underground stems that have a root-like appearance}, and rootlet parts. You will mainly be harvesting roots of perennial, not annual, herbs. Dig them in the fall, winter, or early spring, when the plant has completely died back and all its energy has returned to the root for the winter months. If the plant is a biennial {such as angelica, burdock, and mullein}, harvest from the fall after the first year of growth through the spring of the second year, before the flowering stalk shoots up. If the plant is a perennial, the best year to harvest varies with each herb. Wash and clean roots after you dig them, cut off the crown {the point where the stem joins the roots}, and either make your medicinal preparation or chop the roots into small, uniform pieces for drying.
  • Strobile: In the case of hops, these are the cone-shaped flowering portions of the plant. Harvest them when they are maturing from green to yellowish brown.
  • Whole Plant: When you harvest the whole plant, you take the roots or rhizomes and rootlets {still attached to the crown}, the stems, leaves, flowers, and buds – everything. The best time to harvest a whole plant is usually when the plant is in early flower. Wash the root and remove any brown or decaying above-ground portion of the plant. Then separate the above-ground and root portions for drying, since roots take much longer to fully dehydrate.

When to Harvest Your Herbs:

bergamot onions garlic

Follow the guidelines above for the correct time of year to harvest each plant part. In general, the best time of day to gather any of the above-ground portions of herbs is mid-morning or early evening. Start your harvest after the dew has dried but while the herbs are still cool, since excess moisture can lead to mold and blackened leaves. Herbs harvested in very hot weather or under the midday sun can bruise or wilt, causing them to lose their medicinal constituents {particularly their essential oil content}. Keep them in the shade while you are collecting, and do not pile them too thickly. Roots can be harvested at ant time of day that the ground can be worked, but not when there’s soggy soil: You’ll compact the soil and destroy all the aeration those under-ground critters have worked so hard to tunnel in. remember that the soil is home to beneficial earthworms and a host of other allies.

Plan ahead: Harvest just before you make your medicinal preparations, or prepare and dry them immediately. Herbs will begin to lose potency a soon as they are harvested. Keep them in the shade while you’re working, and if you need to hold them for a time, be sure to refrigerate them right away. The faster they cool, the fresher they will stay.

After harvesting, wash them as little as possible. Do not drench your herbs unless they are caked with mud or extremely dusty. You can fill a sink or bucket with water and, holding a bunch firmly, swish the tops quickly. Gently shake off the excess water and blot them dry, or lay them out on paper or cloth towels to dry.

The Right Tools for Harvesting Your Herbs:

It’s important to use the right tool for the job. Use scissors that you have dedicated to your herbs to harvest very fragile flowers, stems, and leaves. Invest in a good-quality pair of clippers for sturdier plant parts; this will be your most frequently used tool, so buy the best. A hand trowel is versatile, especially if it has a thinner profile for maneuvering in smaller spots. If you’re gardening outside, use a digging fork rather than a shovel for most root-digging harvests. A fork is gentler on the roots, lifts them out more efficiently, and disturbs the surrounding area the least.

Always use clean tools when you’re digging and clipping plants. It’s often recommended that clippers be dipped in a weak bleach solution and rinsed periodically to disinfect them, especially before taking stem cuttings or after pruning a diseased plant.

Drying, Preserving and Storing Your Herbs:

Since you can’t have fresh herbs year-round, and because you do not always use everything you harvest, a drying area at home is the key to preserving your bounty and building your home medicine chest. There are three elements necessary to dry herbs effectively and safeguard their medicinal potency.

  • Darkness: The most crucial factor is to avoid drying your herbs in direct sunlight. Generally speaking, the darker your drying area, the better {although there are a few exceptions, such as some roots}. You can use a closet, a cupboard, an old oven, an attic, or even a barn loft for drying. If you use an area in an open room, be sure to store herbs immediately after they dry, or their color {and their medicinal components} will fade before too long.
  • Air circulation: Choose a breezy area or keep air moving throughout the drying arae so your herbs will dry evenly and quickly, before mold can grow. Even in foggy or damp weather, you can set up a fan to counteract moisture buildup. The percentage of moisture in the air should be 25 percent or less. {You can gauge it with a hydrometer.} If humidity is an ongoing problem, you may want to invest in a small, potable dehumidifier.
  • Heat: A steady heat source really makes a difference in the time it takes to fully dry herbs. You can set up your drying system near a wood-stove or radiator or in a hot water heater closet. You can also make use of the heat rising up to your attic or into your uninsulated summer garage. Forced air dryers, such as food dehydrators, are great for small quantities of herbs, and for larger batches, you can find plans and sample designs for electric and solar dryers online. The ideal temperature for drying most leafy plant material is 90 degrees to 110 degrees F; for thicker, woodier parts, the temperature can go up to 120 degrees F. But you can dry herbs effectively at a typical range of indoor home temperatures if you have good airflow.

Drying Racks:

To dry herbs quickly and evenly, set up screens or racks and lay individual leaves, flowers, berries, and root slices on them.

You’ll get excellent airflow on all sides, and you can move the racks around easily. Window screens or screen doors can be set on blocks, boxes, or any kind of support. You can stretch shade cloth, netting, or fabric over wooden frames, racks, poles, or sawhorses to use as a drying surface {but do not use synthetic sheets because air doesn’t pass through the fibers well}. In a pinch, you can lay herbs on butcher paper or art stock spread over tables, taking care to turn and fluff the material frequently. Be sure to brush off the drying racks or other surface before each use to remove dust and particles from previously dried batches.

Spread your plant material thinly, without clumping or piling it. If you’re planning to dry roots or other parts that need to be cleaned, wash them immediately after harvesting, pat them dry, and spread them out on your drying racks. Try to keep all of the above-ground portions of herbs as whole as possible {you can sort them after they have dried}, but slice your roots to speed the drying time. Chop them into uniform-size pieces either horizontally {like carrot rounds} or vertically {like tongue depressors} if they’re large enough, so they dry evenly.

Turn over the herbs daily until they’re completely dry. This avoids uneven drying where plant parts overlap and pockets of moisture hide. Some very delicate flowers shouldn’t be turned because they’ll bruise and break, but most other leafy plants will need to be turned at least twice before they are crispy and dry.

Dehydrators:

A food dehydrator is handy for drying small batches of herbs, especially leaves that are separated from their stems. It’s a bit of a financial investment, but a fast and efficient food dehydrator can become the home herbalist’s favorite tool.

Hanging Your Herbs:

drying-herbs-1You can bunch long-stemmed herbs with elastics and hang them to dry. Take care not to create bunches that are too big or too dense, as this prevents air circulation in the center of the bunch, where molding can easily occur. The ideal bunch size at the elastic is the same as if you put your forefinger and thumb together in the shape of a circle. Thread a long length of twine or other sturdy line material through several bunches, like they’re hanging on a clothesline, and suspend the line somewhere warm, dry, out of direct sunlight, and convenient – like your kitchen, attic, or spare room. You can suspend bunches on hooks, clothes hangers, or even on a line hung along a wall. Just be sure to store them before they fade. This method is not ideal for leafy herbs that lose their color and potency rapidly {such as spearmint, lemon balm, and oregano}; be sure to store these herbs immediately after they have completely dried.

You can also place your loose herbs in paper bags and hang them in a warm or sunny place. The paper protects the herbs from light and allows air circulation. You can even punch tiny holes in the bag to increase airflow. Shake the bag every day or two so the herbs don’t clump, and check them for dryness after a week. This is a great way to dry flowers and save seeds: Remove the entire flower-head or seed-head with a nice, long stem; carefully lower it, flower pointed down, into a bag; and cinch the top of the bag loosely so debris and dust do not enter.

Oven Drying:

Oven drying is a fast and slightly unpredictable method of drying herbs, yet it’s a good choice if you need to dry herbs quickly or if you don’t have ideal conditions to dry dense roots or big berries that might mold over time. Herbs dry very quickly in the oven, so you will need to pay attention. Place the plant material on a cookie sheet, and turn the oven to the pilot light or lowest possible setting, taking care to leave the oven door open during the whole process. This is a touchy method, and it’s easy to over-dry delicate herbs because the temperature level is unpredictable.

We do not recommend drying medicinal herbs in the microwave.

Assessing Dryness:

No one who’s worked hard to plant and grow herbs wants to go to the cupboard to find a gray, fuzzy mass of moldy chamomile flowers a year after putting them in storage. To avoid this scenario, you need to carefully judge the dryness of your herbs. A completely dried herb will be brittle and breakable in your hand. If stems are still bending and leaves are still pliable, they are not dry. The woody stems and denser parts of the plants will take the longest to dry, so test them first. Flower-heads {such as calendula} might seem dry on the surface, but the interior could still be damp. Press your finger all the way into the center of the flower-head and feel for brittleness in the core of the head to be sure it’s dry all the way through. It’s a common mistake to bag up calendula flowers that are not fully dry and then find the entire crop lost. Be vigilant. You’ll find that atmospheric moisture will dramatically affect the final stages of drying: Herbs can reabsorb moisture overnight and be slightly damp in the morning, so wait until late afternoon to take your herbs off the drying racks so they have the heat of the day to get “crispy” dry.

Don’t leave your herbs on the drying racks or hanging in bunches for too long; remove them as soon as they feel completely crispy. If they keep drying beyond that point, they will soon brown and lose their medicinal and nutritional qualities. The end product of your efforts should resemble the living plant, both in color and texture. A good indicator of success is how recognizable your herb is as it sits in its storage container.

Fast-drying, delicate herbs generally take 3 to 5 days under ideal conditions and as long as 2 weeks in damp conditions. Roots and barks are denser and can take 2 weeks longer. Check your plants regularly, and make no assumptions about drying times.

Storing and Preserving Your Herbs:

Once your herbs are dry, put them in storage immediately. The best storage is clean, dry, dark, and cool. Glass jars, paper bags sealed tightly shut, stainless steel {non-aluminum}, and natural fiber containers work perfectly as long as they are airtight and protect from light and heat. If you need to use plastic bags temporarily, be sure the plastic is food-grade. {Avoid stiff white, gray, or black grocery bags.} Label your container with the name of the herb and the date.

Most flowers, leaves, and other above-ground portions of plants will retain their medicinal potency for a year {and in many cases, even longer} if stored correctly. Roots and barks can retain their potency for up to 2 years.

If your herbs are not carefully stored, you may find yourself with a pest problem: Mice just love dried elderberrries, astragalus roots, and rose hips. Moths may get into your containers and lay eggs on drying seeds, flowers, or berries. If you find a layer of minute brown particles at the bottom of a container, with webbing or disintegrating material among the pieces, you will have to discard your medicine. When this happens, set several insect traps in your storage area and monitor them daily. If the infestation hasn’t progressed too far or you’d like to make sure a batch is protected, put the herbs in a plastic bag in the freezer for 14 to 21 days. Make sure to let the bags return to room temperature before opening them.

Keep your herb-drying and storage areas sealed off from rodents, insects, and cats looking for a comfortable place to nap. Wash your hands before handling, turning, and bagging your herbs.

Freezing is an excellent way to preserve certain herbs, if you have the space for it. They will emerge from their frozen state somewhat discolored and mushy, but they will smell and taste potent.

Generally speaking, this applies to leaves and fleshy roots only {such as comfrey and burdock}, because flowers tend to lose their color and roots lose their texture.

You can freeze herbs two ways. With the first method, brush off or lightly wash the leaves or roots, chop them finely, and place them in closed plastic freezer bags that are labeled with the name of the herb and the date. Use them within a year. For the second method, brush off or lightly wash the leaves or roots, chop them coarsely, pop them into a food processor or blender with enough water to barely cover them, and process them until they are finely chopped or pureed but not paste. Pour this puree into ice cube trays and freeze. When the cubes are frozen solid, break them out and put them in freezer bags. Label and date the bags, put the herb cubes back into the freezer quickly, and use them before the year is out.

Now, after months of planting, growing, harvesting, and storing, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy knowing that you have created a home medicine chest that will give back for years to come!