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Harvesting Herbs

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Harvesting HerbsHerb gathering is a meticulous art; herbs should be picks at exactly the right moment when their various qualities are at their peak. For most herbs, this is usually during late spring and summer, and in the morning.

Leaves should be picked young, just before the flowers open, when the leaf shoots contain concentrated medicinal powers.

Flowers are very fragile, so you should gather them the moment they open, before they have a chance to pollinate.

Seeds should be dried out in the sun, however keep a watch on them as the wind may blow them away.

Barks and roots are best gathered in spring and autumn when the roots are thick and bursting with sap.

Drying herbs.

As soon as you’ve picked, your herbs take them indoors as soon as possible, and tie them in small bunches. Herbs should always be dried out in the driest, airiest and darkest place you can find. Your airing cupboard should provide the ideal environment. You can dry them in the microwave but I don’t like this method, although it’s perfectly acceptable for drying barks and roots.

You herbs are dried out when the leaves and stalks feel crisp to touch.

There are 3 different ways to dry herbs for future use, be it cooking or ritual use. The first is to make a drying screen. Take a piece of plastic window screen mesh, and fasten it to a wooden frame, fastening it to the sides of the wood.

This leaves room for the air to circulate under the screen, for faster drying, and also prevents the herbs from becoming moldy. Allow them to dry in a cool, dry place. It doesn’t matter if it is warm or cool.

The second way is to use silicon gel beads, and putting them in the microwave. This is the fastest method, but also expensive. Silica beads are found in packets in new shoe boxes, inside purses, or can be purchased via mail order. Most stores do not carry them. Times vary, by the type of herb.

The third way is by hanging them to dry. This is best with flowers or herbs with longer stems. You can tie them in a bunch and hang them upside down, or just hang them singly on a piece of cord, etc. stretched across a room. They must be upside down! This method actually takes the longest. Most flowers require being hung for two weeks.

To use the herbs, you must have a mortar & pestle. They must be ground up, and the seeds removed. It takes about 1 hour to grind up the herbs for proper consistency. They must be ground up!

If you are using them for cooking, leave them on the stalks until you are ready to use them. Growing and preparing the herbs yourself, makes the magic stronger. You have had a hand in the growing, cutting, and preparation of the herbs, therefore they have a connection to you.

If you don’t have a lot of space to grow them, You can make many types of containers to grow them in. A good guide for this purpose is All About Herbs from Ortho Books. An excellent guide to finding herbs, and their uses, and what part of the plant to use, is The Herb Book by John Lust. The book to learn about drying them in the microwave is called Herb Drying Handbook by Nora Blose and Dawn Cusick.

More Drying Techniques:

Oven drying: Put the herbs on a sheet in a thin layer and place them in a low setting oven.

Microwave drying: Put the herbs on a plate and set the microwave on low. According to your microwave and how much herbs you have in it, it can take about 2-5 minutes.

To dry leaves and flowers: Spread the leaves and flowers in a basket. This will take about 1-2 weeks before it’s dried.

To dry seeds: Hang bunches of flowers inside a paper bag. The dried seeds will fall down to the bottom of the bag.

The herbs are ready when they are as dry as paper and they crumble when you rub them between your fingers.

Storing your herbs.

You should store your dried herbs in dark jars, if you haven’t got any dark jars, put a stick around them. You must store your herbs in a dark, dry place; nothing ruins your efforts more, than exposing them to sunlight and damp. Heat and light extract all the goodness.

Some herbs can also be frozen. Specially herbs with soft leaves like Comfrey, Basil, Borage, Fennel, Dill and Parsley

Remember to label and date your jars, dried herbs normally keep for a year, and roots and barks two years.

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