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Thursday, May 21, 2015

drying or dehydrating herbs

Lemon balm

Drying or dehydrating herbs is not so tricky as you might think. But why bother, you ask?
  • dried herbs have a longer shelf life than fresh herbs
  • infused oils are more reliably made from dried herbs than fresh, due to the lack of water
  • many fresh herbs are not available at all or in sufficient quantity year round
As you know, I buy dried herbs from reliable companies. My dried apothecary is quite substantial. But in the spring and summer, many herbs are available for fresh use and for collecting and drying to last as winter stock. I take advantage of this growing season as much as my time allows. 


There are some basic rules to follow when wildcrafting, harvesting or collecting, and drying herbs for storage. They're mostly common sense, but let's go over them anyway.
  1. Wildcraft or harvest from a clean place. When wildcrafting (collecting from the wild) or harvesting from a home cultivated crop, be sure to collect herbs that are not at all likely to have been peed or pooped on by a dog or cat. So don't collect red clover tops from the grassy patch next to the path through the village. Chances are, it's not the cleanest.
  2. Wildcraft or harvest in the morning. The cool of the morning is best, before summer (or desert) sun hits and evaporates some of that goodness out of the plant. Of course, now that I live in England instead of Arizona, cloudy days are sometimes reliable for afternoon harvesting, too. Use your discretion.
  3. Wash your herbs. The above picture shows a little egg sac attached to the underside of a lemon balm leaf. I often find egg sacs or rows, baby slugs, spiders, caterpillars, in the plants from which I'm collecting. Some can be shaken off, or relocated or disposed of if you don't want slugs in your crop, but the plant still needs washing. I don't stick with the "mm, extra protein" idea when it comes to homemade herbal medicines and remedies!
  4. Dry your herbs. Before storing in an airtight container -- ziplock plastic freezer bag, plastic tupperware with sealing lid, glass canning jar -- dried herbs will only stay fresh and good if they are properly dried. Sounds obvious, right? Well, I have "dried" herbs before that I thought were properly dehydrated, only to be met with a musty smell of leaf mould when I reopened that jar. One leaf that is not properly dry can lend enough moisture to ruin a batch. Ick.


There are a few different ways you can handle the washing and drying of your herbal ingredients. Largely, this will depend on your climate and humidity, but it will also vary as to the hardness or softness of the herb in question. Basically, what you need to achieve is a fully dry, hard root or berry, or a fully dry, snappable or crushable leaf. You do not have to powder your herbs once dried for storage, and the medicinal values of dried herbs generally last longer if the material is left in a more whole state, but a way I check most leaves and soft herbs for proper dehydration is by powdering a bit in my hand. If I can powder a leaf in my fingers and it isn't at all sticky, it it properly dry.

I like to rinse and spin my herbs in a salad spinner. The centrifugal force pulls a lot of the surface dampness off the plants and helps to reduce drying time. You can pat your plants dry the old fashioned way on a towel if you prefer.

Then, I prefer an electric dehydrating unit. This is my new one, in England. I had a black and white square one in the states that is pictured in my fruit leather post. This one has a heat source on the bottom; the old one had a heat source on the top. It doesn't greatly matter, so long as you can control the temperature for drying. I prefer to dry my herbs between 95 and 115 F, or 40 and 50 C. This temperature and the fan in the electric unit provides a consistent and dry atmosphere for even dehydrating. I did have success in countertop air drying herbs when we were in Arizona, but in England that doesn't work so well. Much more moisture in the air here, and I was disgruntled to ruin an entire bowl of rosehips last autumn before my blessed husband gave me this new electric dehydrator.


Oh, and this ought to go without saying, but sometimes these things don't! One forgets, you know? And by one, I mean me. I learn more by doing than anything else. When you go wildcrafting, take a few essentials along: a basket (for decent air flow and not crushing your harvest), a stout pair of scissors or sharp clippers, and a pair of leather gloves. Reaching through stinging nettles to harvest dock, or through brambles to reach elderflowers, can be a bit tricky barefingered.


Happy harvesting! Do share a pic of your own harvested herbs in the comment section below.


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

one size fits all feel-good essential oil blend


Hello, my lovelies. I have been far more absent this year than I would generally prefer, and I would like to share why with you at another time. For now, suffice to say there is stress in my life.

Who doesn't have stress??! There is good stress, bad stress, middling muddled stress, blah blah blah, but all stress is still stress. It alters brain chemistry, and if you are not perfectly superb at managing your stress levels at all times, chances are you will find some days your brain is producing too much cortisol. The stress hormone.

Enter:

One Size Fits All Feel-good Essential Oil Blend


As the pic above so usefully says, this blend contains

15 drops basil

60 drops rosemary
60 drops lavender
25 drops Roman chamomile
15 drops peppermint

I would like to point out here that I currently do not have a neat Roman chamomile essential oil. Mine is a 10% dilution in jojoba oil, as it was quite a bit cheaper and I hardly ever use it neat anyway. If you do have pure chamomile, Roman or German, go with 3-5 drops instead of 25 and test it out a few times. Chamomile can be quite overwhelming at times so best not to overdo it.

Mix up the number of drops of essential oil together in a clean glass bottle with reduction dropper. Label it. Always label it! I use unpretty but oh-so-easy masking tape and permanent marker, as it doesn't bleed or run, stays put, and peels off without a gigantic gluey mess if I need to wash and re-purpose the glass bottle.

Let your new blend sit and synergize for an hour or so before use -- this is not so much about energy levels or some mystical essential oil magic, but just allowing the densities of the oils to properly blend together so that they distribute evenly. You can shake the bottle hard to mix the oils, I suppose, but a gentle swirl and rest is less oxidizing, at the very least. Anyway. Do make sure your oils are properly melded together before use.

Use your One Size Fits All Feel-good Essential Oil Blend in a humidifier, vaporizing diffuser, candle lit diffuser, or diluted for pulse point application in a roller ball or reduction dropper. I don't promise that this essential oil blend will magically reduce the cortisol levels in your brain, but the formula is composed of oils traditionally turned to for supporting brain and emotional stability. Test it out a bit and change it up if this particular blend doesn't quite work for you. And let me know how it goes! I love to hear from you.