HOW TO PICK & USE YOUR HERBS



PICKING:

Picking time of the day:
Choose a sunny morning when there is no moisture from dew or rain on the plant.

Leaves:
Try to pick leaves before flowering.
Pick small leafed herbs by the stem & strip them off later. Larger leaves can be picked individually.

Flowers:
Flowers should be cut either just before or shortly after opening.
Pick flowers individually.
Some, like lavender, are picked with a long piece of stem attached whereas others just the actual ‘head’ is carefully picked off.
For some you may wish to strip the petals & for other, often smaller flowers you will want to keep them whole to dry.

Seeds: 
Seeds are harvested before they are ready to fall but after they have lost their green colour.
Collect the whole ‘head’ & retrieve the individual seeds later.

Roots:
Roots are best harvested later in the growing year when the plant is dormant while leaf growth is at a minimum.

Bulbs:
Bulbs like onion & garlic are dug up in late summer or early autumn.
You can usually tell that they are ready for harvest by the green parts above ground having dropped to the ground & turned brown.

Bark:
Make sure you don’t strip bark from very young trees & do not strip bark all the way around the trunk.
Do not take too much bark from the same tree as this might kill it.
Use sharp & clean tools & keep your cuts 1m above ground.
Lastly, do not harvest from endangered or protected species.

Wild foods:
Be sure the plant you pick is the plant you think it is,if you have any doubt, leave them where they are.
Check the environment, there is no point picking in areas that are subjected to heavy pollution or exposed to pesticides.
Many wild plants are protected by law; educate yourself about the rules of wild crafting in your local area.
Do not over pick, leave some to spread for future harvest & to maintain growth in the area.

DRYING:

Ideally you’d have a space that is dry, well aired & where the temperature is consistently between 20–32C.

Leaves:
Spread your leaves out on trays or hang tied in small bunches. Leave enough for air to circulate freely.
The rule of thumb is to dry leaves until they are crisp and crackly to the touch.

Flowers:
If the blooms are quite large, remove the petals to dry.
Calendula/Marigold flowers can be dried whole & the petals removed afterwards.
Lavender flowers are kept on a long stem & hung tied in bunches to dry. 
Like leaves, flowers can be dried on trays or netting but if you need the buds to stay in particularly good shape for decorative purposes then you might wish to dry them upright with stems pushed through wire trays. Leave until flowers are dry.

Seeds:
Tie stems into bunches then invert then into a paper bag & tie the bag around the seed heads.
Hang up & leave to dry in a warm, airy place.
Once completely dry clean off any pods or husks.

Roots & Bark:
Scrub roots & bark thoroughly then chop into small pieces ready for drying.
These tougher plant materials require higher drying temperatures & can be dried in the sun.
Here the oven can be used quite successfully at a very low temperature & the door left slightly open. 
Dried outside on trays or netting it is advised to cover with muslin or the like to keep dust & debris away. The roots/bark is dried when it they snap easily. 


STORING:

You can’t beat the classic glass jar for storing dried herbs.
It seals well, protects from damp & dust, insects stay out & you can see if anything has gone awry with the contents.
Keeping an eye on your herbs is especially important in the first couple of weeks after drying in case there is residual moisture which leads to mould. 
The jar has to be whole, clean & dry.
Store jars in a cool & dark spot. 
You can preserve your herbs in oil too. If you are planning on using the oil up within a week of making, then you can leave the herbs in – they do look rather pretty. .

Freezing Herbs:
Strip leaves & petals from the stems.
Lay herbs in single layers & pack them flat in a container or zip-lock bag.Make sure you remove as much air from the bag as possible.
When you need to remove herbs from the freezer work quickly. You’ll want to chop a piece off your herb sheet before it defrosts & goes soggy.
You can freeze herbs in ice cube trays. This allows the little portion sizes without defrosting too much. You can chop them & freeze straight away or you can blend with a little water & freeze the resulting pulp.
Use herbs frozen, don’t defrost them first. 

Herbal Tea: 
Herbal tea or tisanes are infusions - however a medicinal infusion is a lot stronger than a cup of herbal tea, therefore more of the herb material is needed. 
To make herbal tea use 1 tsp of dried herb for every cup of boiling water.
Cover & leave for approximately 10 minutes.

Infusion:
Infusions are made of leaves, flowers, soft seeds and green stems.  30gr/1oz dried herb for every 1 litre/2 pints of almost boiling water. Cover and let infuse for 30 minutes. This formula works on a standard dosage of 3 times daily and makes approximately 3 doses.

Decoction:
Decoctions require simmering. This means that the materials used in the tea must be crushed beforehand & cut into small pieces suitable for simmering temperatures.
30g dried herb for every 1 l cold water which reduces down to approx 750ml. Bring up to heat & simmer gently for up to 30 minutes.
This formula works on a standard dosage & makes ca 3 doses.
Decoctions should be made fresh each day & should be stored in the fridge.
It may be sweetened & can be drunk hot or cold.
 
Tincture:
Tinctures are stronger than water based extractions like infusions or decoctions, as some of the active ingredients in the plant may not be water soluble but will dissolve in alcohol.
A rule of thumb is 1 part herb to 5 parts vodka.
Chop herbs finely, then place into a glass jar.  Do not pack them tightly or else the vodka won’t be able to get to it all.
Add vodka to the herbs. If the vodka does not cover all the plant material add some more until it is all completely submerged.
Put a tight lid on the jar & store for 2 weeks at room temperature.
A dark shelf is fine, since tincture does not need light to process.
Shake the contents once or twice a day to redistribute the herbs in the alcohol.  If you are using powdered herbs, stir them with a spoon every day to keep them from clumping together.
Strain.
Store in a cool, dark place.
The standard dose for tinctures, unless otherwise stated, works on 2ml 3 times a day.
Tinctures should always be taken in a little warm water.

Syrup:
You can use honey or sugar or you may even wish to add some glycerin as it keeps a lot longer.
500ml of infusion or decoction to 500g of sugar.
Heat gently until all the sugar is dissolved.
Store syrup in the fridge for future use.

Infused oil:
Pack as much herb material into a clear glass jar as you can & cover with oil.
Seal tightly with a lid & place in the sun, or another warm place for 2 – 3 weeks.
After that, strain the infused oil into a dark glass bottle.
The oil is ready for use straight away & if stored away from direct light will last for up to a year.
To increase the strength of your infused oil you may repeat the process by packing a jar with new herbs, covering it with the already infused oil & leave again for a few weeks.

Poultice:
A poultice is often used to speed up the healing of wounds & muscle injuries. Either dried or fresh herbs may be used to make a poultice.
Use as much herb material as needed to cover the affected area.
In an acute situation you can grab a handful of fresh herb, bruise it & place directly onto the injury.
Dried herbs must be made into a paste using hot water.
You can prepare poultices in a blender by blending fresh herbs with a little water to make a thick paste.

Compress:
Compresses are similar to poultices but utilise only a liquid extract of the required herb.
Use a clean cloth & soak it in a hot decoction or infusion.
Place on the affected area as hot as bearable.
Since heat activates the healing properties it is a good idea to place a hot water bottle on the area to maintain temperature.
If this is impractical you may need to repeat the soaking process whenever the compress cools down.






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