Herbs for Hunger and Health

Something that I have really been having a lot of fun using this year is herbs. I have long been interested in herbs and have grown them since I was a child. I even had my very own herb garden when I was growing up.

Though I have long like herbs I will admit I haven't always done a very good job of using them. I plant them and enjoy pinching off a leaf now and then to smell them and then I often let them go to waste for the most part.

This year I really worked at changing that and I have had a lot of fun. I still have a ways to go at using them to their full potential but I am learning! :-)

So I thought it would be fun to share some of the things I am learning with you. Some of it is my research and I am partially writing it all down so that I can find it again and some of the things I have tried and really like. I hope you are interested in learning more about herbs too. Also please share whatever expertise you have on herbs already in the comments!

  Today I am going to focus on harvesting and some basics on using them and then throughout this week I will have posts on individual herbs with favorite ways to use them and healing that they are supposed to be good for. Please come and join me!

  When do we harvest herbs?
Usually it is just as they begin to flower. The essence in them is the strongest in them at this time. However individual herbs can be different. Here is a chart that I found that lists many of the herbs and their own special time for harvest.

 Collect the leaves in the mid morning. After the dew has dried off of them but before the day gets too hot.

 You may like to water them the evening before to try to rinse them off so they are dust free. Or you can gently rinse them after you cut them.
  Roots are best harvested in the Fall after 1 or 2 frosts. They can be harvested at anytime however.

 How to harvest:
 Cut about 50 percent off of the plant, still leaving 4 inches or so. For slow growing herbs only cut around 1/3 off. I will admit I will cut more than this at times, especially if fall is approaching and they are annual plants. Then just cut away!

For seed heads (such as dill and coriander) cut the whole plant off with the seed on it and put it in a paper bag to dry. Then shake it and collect the seeds inside.

Ways to preserve herbs for winter:
  • Dry them. You can use the old fashioned method of making small bundles and hanging them upside down until they are dry and crumble easily (probably a couple of weeks) or you can do this but with a paper bag around them to prevent dust from getting on them or you can dry them using a dehydrator, microwave or oven (at around 100 degrees) to dry them.
  • Pot them and bring them in like that to use fresh all winter long!
  • Freeze them. Wash the herbs off before freezing. (I also read that basil, thyme and dill will have better color if they are blanched before freezing.) You can just put them in plastic bags and freeze or lay them out on a cookie sheet and flash freeze them before putting them in bags so they don't stick together. Another way to freeze herbs is to cut them up and freeze them in ice cube trays along with a little water.  After the cubes freeze but them in labeled bags in the freezer.
  • Put them in oil. Basil, tarragon, rosemary and sorrel can be stored in oil (vegetable or olive). Place leaves in a glass jar, alternating layers of leaves and oil. Store in the fridge. When you use the leaves scrape the oil back in the jar. They oil can be used for marinating, sauteing and dressings.
How do we use herbs?
  • Herbs are great for making teas out of. Use an herb by itself or combine it with another. To make a tea a general rule of thumb is to use 2 teaspoons of dried herb (in a tea ball or use a strainer) or 2-3 sprigs of fresh leaves for each cup of water. Poor boiling water over the herbs, cover and let sit for a minimum of 5 minutes. (Though I will admit, I am not this scientific with my tea making! ) Test your tea and allow more time if desired. Sweeten if you desire with maple syrup, honey, sugar, molasses or stevia. Hot herbal tea on a cold day is so very nice!
  • Cook with your herbs. Check out those more "complicated" recipes that use lots of herbs or just have fun experimenting with herbs in different recipes. Sometimes your family will say "What did you put in this!?" and sometimes they will say "This is really, really good!" Here is a little list that gives some suggestions on using herbs and spices.
  • Make an infusion. This is like herbal tea but stronger. You can drink it and also inhale the warm vapors from it for health benefits. To make an infusion steep 1/2 to 1 ounce of dried herb in 1 pint of boiling water for 10-20 minutes. (To use fresh herbs, double the amount.)  When you inhale the warm vapors while it steeps it may help relieve the discomforts of colds, flu, cough, bronchitis and allergies.
  • Make a tincture. I have never done this but I would like to try it. Tinctures make the herbs last longer than other methods of preservation. To make a tincture use 100 proof vodka or brandy or apple cider vinegar. Use 1 ounce of dried herbs for 5 ounces liquid. Put in a sealed container and let steep for 6 weeks. Label and date them well. Shake every few days. Keep out of direct sunlight.  Brown glass works well. It is up to you whether you strain out the plant material at the end of the 6 weeks. Tinctures are very potent so keep out of reach of small children.
  • Make an ointment. You can do this by adding 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tincture to every ounce of commercial skin lotion. This can be used for burns, cuts and other skin problems.
  • Take an herbal bath. Fill a cloth bag with herbs and run your bathwater over it. You can also leave it in the water as you bathe.
I would love to hear any suggestions you have on using herbs too! Be sure to come back the rest of this week and I discuss specific herbs, herbal gifts and more!