All photos credit: Lynda Felton
As we move closer to autumn, it’s time to start thinking of ways to make the bounty of the garden last into the winter months. Preserving fruits and pickling vegetables has become a popular pastime for those who wish to preserve the flavours of nature throughout the fall and winter months. Drying herbs and flowers is another way to bring the aromas and colours of the outdoors inside year round.
We often use herbs such as Sage, Lavender, Chamomile and Rosemary to add an extra sensory appeal to our lives. On a purely practical level you can use them to flavour food and drink. But you can also give a bundle of dried lavender a squeeze for a quick release of its relaxing scent. We are particularly fond of brewing up a calming cup of tea using the dried flowers of the Chamomile plant (a recipe we’re sharing at the end of this blog).
Basically, preserved herbs check off all the boxes when it comes to benefitting you and your home. Bundled up they invoke a folksy visual appeal. They taste great. Their scents have therapeutic properties. Preparing them is terrifically tactile. And you’ll never get tired of hearing friends and family talk about their own relationship with these dehydrated beauties.
Relax with Lavender
There are many different ways to preserve herbs, but the most important step is keeping plants dry to prevent mold and rot. Generally you will want to harvest them on a sunny and dry day. And to preserve them, you’ll need a space in your house that’s not humid and is away from direct sunlight.
One of the simplest and most visually attractive ways to preserve herbs is to hang them up to dry. Here, we’ve bundled up long stems of Lavender with twine at the base of the stems and hung them upside down in a dry spot.
It takes about a month before the bundle is completely dry. After that you can use it to fill sachets to place in your dresser drawers (it keeps moths at bay). Lavender has been celebrated for it’s calming properties both emotional (the scent has been used to alleviate insomnia and restlessness) and physical. A favourite skin-soothing tip is to add dried lavender to a jar filled with Epsom salts to use in the bath.
Clear the air with Sage
Part of the joy of drying herbs is participating in the ritual of preparing them. The thought that goes into each step — selecting and preparing our plants — makes us more mindful of how the natural world takes care of us and how we should take care of it.
Sage smudging is an ancient cleansing ritual used by First Nations and shamanic cultures. Burning a sage stick is said to create a space of new beginnings by shifting energy in a space.
To make your own sage stick for smudging, first buy some vegetable-dyed thread to use for the binding. Then pick your plants on the day you want to make your wand (sage dries quickly). We like using white sage mixed in with some cedar or rosemary.
Next arrange the stems facing the same direction on a small cloth. And finally, wrap the thread around your bundle, binding it as tightly as you can (the herbal materials shrink as they dry and a loosely tied bundle will fall apart).
Place your sticks on a cooling rack for several weeks. When they are ready, you can burn them to cleanse the energy in your space.
Soothe with Rosemary
The practice of drying herbs is as old as the seasons themselves. In fact, many of the previous tips and techniques here come from the pages of my great-grandmother’s books on botany.
We’ve also gained a few ideas about the uses of dried herbs from our own journeys. In India, for example, Rosemary is used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve memory power and thinking skills. In naturopathic medicine, it’s used to ease headaches. And a sprig of rosemary also evokes memories of delicious Mediterranean meals.
Because Rosemary is an evergreen herb, it takes a little longer to dry out than Lavender or Chamomile. To help speed up the process, we like to spread sprigs on a wire cooling rack. You can also place them in the oven on parchment paper on low heat for two to four hours or until it crumbles between your fingers.
Once dry, place the rosemary in a tightly sealed jar kept in a dry, dark place. We like to have it on hand for cooking and baking or just to clear your mind by breathing in its wonderful herbaceous aroma.
Calm with Chamomile
Chamomile is probably our favourite dried herb. You can use it to fill a sleep pillow or to make a delicious, calming tea.
For tea, you want to preserve the daisy-like blooms of the plant. Which means you should harvest them early in the day when the flowers are open. Turn the stems upside down and give them a shake to get rid of any little insects. To dry them you can hang them upside down in a warm, dry place such as a closet. We find that one bundle yields about 6-12 cups of tea.
Because the flowers of the chamomile plant are very, very delicate, we recommend wrapping them in a plastic bag or newspaper to collect the petals that get shaken loose. Let dry for about three days, and then pop the flowers off of the stems. Store in a clean, air-tight jar until you are ready to brew.
CHAMOMILE HONEY LEMON TEA RECIPE
1. Boil two cups of water in a saucepan or kettle.
2. Pour the hot water into a pot. For each cup of water, add a tablespoon of crushed or whole chamomile or leave it whole and let it steep for around 10 to 15 minutes.
3. Pour the infusion into a cup, straining the liquid with a tea strainer or sieve.
4. Sweeten as desired with some local honey, add a slice of lemon and enjoy!