Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Herb harvesting

Our greenhouse has turned into a solar herb drying facility - we've hung up a tarp to block out the sunlight, and have converted our shelving into herb drying racks, plus a long series of hooks for herb bunches to hang from the rafters.  Herbs dry quickly in here, as it's dark, breezy and very dry in the greenhouse when the door is left open.  I remember volunteering as a WWOOFer one summer about ten years ago up at the Algonquin Tea Company near Ottawa.  Interning with the WWOOF program (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is an excellent opportunity to try out life on a real working farm and do some travelling, with organic farms listed across the globe and as diverse as your interests may be - from sheep farms to biodynamic dairy farms, to herb farms, to farms with working draft horses, to market gardens and large-scale CSA's, there is bound to be a farm in the WWOOFing guide that suits your needs.  The experience at Algonquin Tea was probably one of my biggest inspirations for delving further into the world of herbalism and wild foods.  They had converted an old barn loft into their herb drying studio, with rows and rows of shelving to dry all the plants for the six beautiful loose-lea teas they produce. 

For proper herb drying you just need these conditions: pick herbs when at their peak (determine if you are using the leaves, flowers, roots, berries, etc);  pick late morning when dry but not too late in the day when they may be wilted from the heat; dry in small hanging bunches with proper air circulation around them, or in paper bags with a few holes punched in as air vents (bags are useful for collecting flowering herbs like lavender which drop their petals while drying); or on racks or old window screens, again with lots of air circulation.  They should be dried out of direct sunlight, and when herbs are dried crisp yet still with colour intact, they are ready.  Herbs should never be stored if they are not completely dry as they will mold and spoil your whole batch!  Today we were harvesting herbs on our property for our teas and salves: bergamot, mints, lemon balm, catnip, lavender, calendula, red clover, anise hyssop, sage, yarrow, plantain, comfrey, oregano, thyme, marshmallow leaf, sweet grass, plus basil and wild grape leaves (to eat).

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