Drying herbs to support yourself or your family throughout the year is one of the most rewarding things we can do for our health. Nature provides us with herbal solutions and supports for all our ailments, it’s just often we don’t know which ones are for what and how to use them.
As a naturopath I have always cultivated in my garden the herbs or "weeds" I find most healing. Drying is the easiest method of preserving herbs, allowing you to benefit from their magic throughout the year and store them in the years when they are less abundant.
(Although a fresh supply each year is ideal)
Gathering your herbs
It is best to gather your leaves, flowers and stems on a waxing moon. Due to the gravitational pull of the moon the plants vital energies and fluids are flowing upwards into the plant. Roots on the other hand are best gathered on a waning moon when the opposite is the case.
The best time of day to harvest most herbs for the drying process is in the morning after the dew has lifted as you want your herbs as dry as possible before the drying process starts to avoid mould. When choosing flowers, choose the ones that are in the bud stage just before opening.
Harvesting in line with the season it is good to follow the energy of the plant and note that:
Roots are best gathered in the Autumn when the tops of the plants are dying back and the energy of the plant returns to its roots as a store for winter.
Leaves are best picked in early spring before the plant flowers.
Flowers are best picked when they are in bud about to come into full flower and full energy.
How to dry your herbs successfully?
When drying herbs be careful not to bruise or crush the leaves or flowers. Plantain is a good example, if they bruise, they can ferment and turn black when dry. Don’t leave your picked herbs lying in the sun either as they can lose essential oils.
The parts of the plants we often dry are the flowering tops as this is where most of the energy is within the plant. The simplest way of drying is in hanging bundles. The trick is not to make your bundles too big to allow the moisture to escape and avoid them going mouldy. Using string or raffia tie your bundles at the stem and leave to hang upside down in a warm well-ventilated area. You could use a fan if you wanted to speed up the process. Drying can take between 3 - 7days.
You can also use a dehydrator although this uses energy. Set your dehydrator to 35-46 celsius and place the herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Drying times can vary considerably so check regularly. Herbs are dry when they crumble, and stems break when bent.
Storing your herbs
Once dried use your hands to remove the leaves and flowers from any woody stalks depending on the herbs you are drying. It makes them more storable and allows them to be utilised more effectively in making teas, crumbling into food or just to fit into a jar when making tinctures and oxymels.
They are best stored in a tinted glass jar with a good fitting lid away from direct sunlight and heat.
Store herbs separately.
How to use your dried herbs?
The two main ways I use dried herbs is as a tincture or Oxymel (we will share some over the next few months) or simply as a tea infusion.
A lovely tea combination I make regularly is Elderflower, Nettle and peppermint. This can be a real anti-inflammatory support during the hay ever season and a general tonic and digestive support.
Combine equal amounts of dried elderflowers with crumbled nettle and peppermint leaves.
Place a teaspoon full in a tea strainer and infuse for 15 minutes before drinking.