How to dry herbs for teas

I have been experimenting with a number of teas and herbal tea blends looking for useful (medicinal) and flavoursome teas. Of course, you can make lovely teas from fresh herbs and they look great in the cup.

MintTea

The trouble with fresh herbs is that they are not available all year. The next best option is to dry them for using later.

Retaining the flavour

Because herbs get their scents and flavours from their essential oils you need to take care to dry them in a way that keeps that flavour and oil intact. Essential oils are extremely volatile and will evaporate easily when exposed to light and heat. This is important to remember when picking them and drying them.

You key aim when drying herbs is to do it:

  • Quickly to avoid mould
  • Away from light
  • Without applying too much heat

If you are collecting herbs for drying from your own garden, harvest them in the morning when their oil content is at its highest. However, wait until any dew has evaporated. Overnight, the plants replenish the essential oils they gave up during afternoon heat.

Some herbs do not dry well and are best preserved by other methods. Herbs that do not dry well include parsley, coriander, rosemary, chives and basil. These herbs keep their flavours when made into herbal oils and vinegars which can be used in cooking rather than in teas.

Drying Leafy Herbs

During the winter our wood burner is going almost constantly. I have hastened the drying process by using a roasting tray on the top of the stove, but this is probably not the best option.

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Above: New Zealand Kawakawa leaves drying out on the stove

A better way is to hang the herbs, leaves down, with stems held together with a rubber band. Hang the herbs where they can dry away from direct light or heat. After a week they should be crispy-dry and the leaves should crumble easily off the stems.

Strip the leaves from the stems. Crumble them in your hands before storing the dried herbs in tightly covered glass jars, again away from direct light or heat. You can use a mortar and pestle but be careful not to crush the herbs into powder. Just as some cheaper teas are unpleasantly dusty, herbal teas will also become ‘dusty’ if over-worked.

KawakawaTeaGrindKawakawaTea1

A mortar and pestle can be used to crumble herb leaves for teas. The leaves above are the dried tea made from the kawakawa leaves.

Using a slow oven

If you cannot wait for your herbs to dry naturally, or they are taking longer than a week to dry, put them in your oven on the lowest temperature for no longer than 5 minutes.  Let the herbs cool at room temperature for 5 minutes before transferring to jars.

Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

Drying herbs in a dehydrator has the advantage of being relatively quick. I have, however, found the dehydrator I bought took ages (and several hours of electricity) before the herbs were dried enough to be crumbled. Drying close to the fire was far more effective. However, here are some tips:

  • Strip larger leaves from the stems (e.g. lemon balm, mint and sage)
  • Leave small-leafed herbs on the stem (e.g. thyme)
  • Make sure herbs are spread thinly over the tray so they dry evenly
  • Dry at 95F/35C until crispy-dry. This will take 2-8 hours depending on the thickness of the leaves and the humidity in the air
  • Check every 2 hours to see if the herbs are dry yet

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

All it takes is an earthquake

Only people who have lived through a major disaster, like the Christchurch Earthquake of 2011, can understand the subtle changes in outlook and fortune these natural events make in your life. Even if you are only affected in a minor way your outlook on the certainty of life is forever changed.

How Christchurch looked before the Earthquake of 2011

 

Major disasters affect your life because they disrupt your income: your business or your employment or the market in which you offer products and services. If you no longer have premises to work in, what can you do? In the Christchurch earthquake many buildings were unsafe to work in, so businesses scrambled to relocate – moving into residential buildings that were often unsuitable for their commercial purpose. Or they doubled-up with other businesses which added stresses because of the lack of space. The stress levels of the whole community rose along with the fear as the city was rocked by countless aftershocks.

The changes in location made it hard to reach former clients: electronic and hardcopy records were lost or unable to be retrieved when unsafe buildings were officially blocked off to access by owners and tenants. Even though many businesses showed huge resilience in getting back down to business they had to:

  • Re-establish contacts with suppliers who had also moved elsewhere
  • Locate replacement products and electronic equipment and …
  • Wrestle with Insurance companies, which were also dealing with re-locations of their own and struggling under the enormity of the disastrous earthquake

Large companies survive disasters, like earthquakes, because they have reserves of cash/investments they can call on to buy new leases. They are also attractive as new tenants and can negotiate deals.

Small businesses, especially service businesses, are not so lucky. Their reserves have often been used to set up in the first place and are constantly being re-invested into the business to establish a sound financial footing. When the ground is literally shaken from under them, their viability is also threatened. Business life has to change.

I was heartened to come across this website of a Tanya Townsend, a Clinical Medical Herbalist, whose livelihood was destroyed by the earthquake, but who is now using and marketing her knowledge in a different way. She has set up Naturalus –  a natural health online store and I love the philosophy behind her medicinal herb products. And there are herbal products designed to help you cope with stress.

Not only has Tanya gone online (her Facebook site is here), she has also gone back to grassroots marketing by regularly meeting her customers face-to-face at a local (farmers) market in Riccarton, Christchurch. Good on you, Tanya, for being a survivor, even though life will never be the same.

Heather Sylvawood – Amazon Author: https://www.amazon.com/author/heathersylvawood

What herbs will be planted in my garden?

In a previous post I shared a brief overview of what I had researched about medicinal herbs. In this post I am going to share my list.

I decided I had to go about creating a list of desirable herbs by starting from the common ailments that I might like to cure or lessen the effects of. So I started from a book I have had in my library for about 30 years, called: Common Plants as Natural Remedies, By Cynthia Wickham. In it are given some recipes for teas and concoctions suggested by Swiss homeopath, Dr Robert Quinche. Dr Quinche has a book still available on ABE Books website called: Herbs from the Garden to the Cooking Pot.

Cynthia’s book looks at really common plants like camomile (chamomile), Marigold (the taller one with long full leaves), yarrow (a remedy for severe colds) and great mullien (a woolly tall plant you often see along dry river beds). Some of the herbs mentioned in the teas she credits Dr Quinche with devising are a little out of the ordinary – my view – like ‘blessed thistle’. I know it exists because our local Health Food online supplier HealthPost advertises it. Apparently Blessed Thistle is a supplement you can take to support breastfeeding.

Shirley’s Wellness Cafe has a detailed description of the herb, but it looks far too close to Scotch Thistle for me to risk growing in the garden. The neighbours might complain! Come to think of it, I wonder if Scotch Thistle might do as a substitute? The answer is “NO” but it might be useful in treating ulcers and skin cancers. What wondrous routes one takes when researching a tea recipe.

Here is the recipe that contains the Herbs I want to top my list:

 

Above (left to right): Cowslip, Arnica and Bergamot

  • 25g cowslip flowers
  • 10g chamomile flowers
  • 5g arnica flowers
  • 5g marigold petals
  • 5g lavender
  • 1.5g bergamot
  • 5g peppermint leaves
  • 25g blessed thistle

According to Quinche: Make an infusion. For chronic headaches take half a cupful of tea every 2 hours. Put a cold compress of spirit of lavender on the forehead.

So here is the start of my list:

  • Cowslip
  • Chamomile (got the seeds)
  • Arnica
  • Marigold (got them growing
  • Lavender (got the seeds)
  • Bergamot
  • Peppermint (got it growing)
  • Blessed thistle (hmmm?)

In my hot little  mitt I have seeds for:

  • White sage
  • Evening primrose
  • Anise (one of those plants that will just have to go to seed)
  • St John’s Wort
  • Feverfew
  • Meadowsweet

Next I’ll share with you what all these plants are purported to do. Meanwhile I’m off to plant some tenderly loved seed.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster – what professionals forget to tell you about buying, building and selling real estate.

What should go in your herb garden?

As part of our move toward being more eco-friendly human beings, I have convinced my partner that we need a herb garden. The final convincing argument about why we should lose lawn and gain herb garden was there was nowhere for the strawberry patch. The prospect of no strawberries was enough to make a herb-cum-strawberry garden seem bearable.

Now my next task was to decide what to put in it? Was the herb garden culinary or medicinal? Would I plant international or native plants?

I opted for medicinal – which sent me into a lot of research. Here is a sskin tonics, ummary of what I discovered:

  • Culinary herbs are often also medicinal. (e.g. sage as a deodorant or mouth wash, thyme to promote sleep, (lemon balm for headaches and tiredness)
  • Many herbs considered as weeds are extremely beneficial. (comfrey, heartsease, yarrow, nasturtium, puha and sorrel)
  • There are so many herbs and vegetables that make effective cosmetics and skin tonics. (e.g. citrus, cucumbers, onion and even strawberries)
  • A herb garden is unlikely to be tidy as you have to let some plants go to seed to harvest and others (like yarrow) are weeds most people would remove immediately. Depending on what I decide to put into the herb garden, this could be the subject of strong discussion between my partner and me.

Sage2

Sage – not just for taste alone – the tea  taken regularly can reduce body odour

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Heirloom Garden seeds come with hints about their medicinal uses

Seed suppliers

I started by looking for suppliers of seed. The more unusual herbs may not show up as plants in your local garden shop. One gem of a website I discovered was Carol’s Heirloom Garden.  Carol produces a wonderful array of seeds, including herbs at very reasonable prices, but she can only supply in New Zealand. She also has some eBooks on sale, including one on Seed Saving at Home. It’s on my ‘must-have’ list.

What I like about Carol’s seeds is that they come in tiny packets which have growing instructions on one side and medicinal or culinary properties on the other. Once these herbs grow into healthy plants I am going to have to decide:

  1. In what part of the herb garden will they grow on best?
  2. How can I water and cultivate them to get best results?
  3. How I will label them so that come harvest time I still remember what they are?

Maybe that’s counting my herbs before they’re grown. I’ll keep you posted.