If you’re a gardener, the back yard in summertime is your supermarket and your playground. It also can be your pharmacy. Why stop at clipping flowers and picking tomatoes when you can make teas, bath products, poultices, oils and medicinal foods from the fresh herbs growing right outside your door?
Summer is the peak season for fresh, seasonal remedies to treat all the dings and scratches you and your family are likely to get from working in the garden, climbing trees, building forts and mixing it up with nature. It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of the garden’s abundance by filling up your medicine cabinet with remedies for the coming months. Imagine having a ready answer when someone in your family comes down with the flu, has an ear infection or just wants to pamper herself with an herbal bath.
If you keep in mind some general rules about how to process different plant parts, when to harvest the part of the plant you’re interested in, and the difference between using fresh and dried herbs, the rest is up to your creativity.
Be mindful what time you harvest plant parts according to its growth. For example, if you want to pick burdock roots to add to soup, you wouldn’t want to take the root when the leaves are just beginning to sprout, because the leaves are where the plant is concentrating its energy. The best time to take roots is early spring before the above-ground parts have begun to show, or late fall after the plant has gone to seed and its energy has traveled back underground.
Drying Herbs for Later Use
If you prefer working with dried plants, there are many ways to dehydrate the herbs you’ve picked. You’ll see fairly consistent results if you lay your herbs flat on a framed screen in a warm, dry place, ensuring that air will circulate to all sides of the plant. Some people swear by using a food dehydrator on a very low setting (while this is certainly the quickest method, it’s not exactly the most natural or energy efficient). Others rely on nothing fancier than some twine and a well-placed nail from which to hang the bundled herb – a technique closest to the historical method of hanging bundles from the rafters. Heartier plants, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, will dry just fine with this low-maintenance approach. More delicate herbs, or herbs with a higher moisture content, such as basil, mints and lemon balm, will be better off lying flat in a well-ventilated area. The drying time depends on the moisture content of the plant and can take anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks. Avoid drying herbs in the oven or in direct sun, as this will affect the color and flavor of the plant and your finished product.
No Fresh Herbs?
If you have no garden to call your own, try approaching a neighbor about arranging a barter. Gardeners often have more plants than they know what to do with. In exchange for providing you with their surplus herbs, you might offer to give them half of whatever you make. If they don’t have a particular herb you want to concoct something out of, you could propose a similar deal for the next season: they provide the garden space and the watering, you buy and plant the seeds, and you both divvy up the results.
Naturopathic Lifestyle Educator and Wellness Coach, Sonja Upham, received medical missionary training and lifestyle education at Uchee Pines Lifestyle Center in Alabama and Hallelujah Acres in North Carolina. She moved from her position as Webmaster and class lecturer at Uchee Pines back to North Carolina where she serves as Assistant Health Ministries Director at her local church, and Co-founder of HeavenScent Wholistic Health, along with her husband Dave. Furthering her education she attended Global College of Natural Medicine, receiving her Master Herbalist and Holistic Health Practitioner certifications. She is currently working towards her doctorate in Naturopathy.