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The Craft Of Herbalism - Part III

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Medicinal and magical herbs, harvested from my container roof garden.

 

Once you have finished your harvesting, it is time to start working with your herbs to get the most of its medicinal and magical properties. The third (and final) part of this article will show you several tips to keep the herbs' properties at their best during processing, drying and storing them.

The first step is to clean the herbs thoroughly of dust, animal hair, insects and all kind of natural debris. If you don’t have time to do that the day you have harvested them, take all herbs outside the bags used to bring them home, and leave them on a table or floor where they won’t be a bother, away from pets and kids. A mat of newspaper sheets or any other absorbent material will start drawing humidity from them.

Once the herbs are clean, decide which herbs will be used fresh and which ones will be set to dry; fresh herbs are better to make smudge sticks, kitchen oils and vinegars for salad dressings, to mince and make frozen cubes of cooking herbs, and so on. All the work done with fresh herbs must be done as soon as possible.

For the herbs you want to preserve dried, big branches or full plants (minus the roots) should be hanged in bunches in a shady but well ventilated area – remember not to hang them touching a wall, or the side of the bunch touching the wall could grow mildew. Do not dry them in the sun as the essential oils of the herbs are highly volatile and the plants will lose power if sun dried. Once the plant is dry, don’t discard the stems, as many plants contain more essential oils in them than in leaves or flowers.

 

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Wildharvested herbs, already processed and ready to be set to dry.

 

Smaller bit of herbs, barks, and loose flowers should be placed on trays, either on trays made with netting for ventilation, or in regular trays lined with absorbent paper. Again, they should be placed in a shady but well ventilated area, away from direct sun. Once a day, turn the batch around for an even drying. Roots should be dried separately, as they usually have the highest amount of water in the plant and need more time to dry than leaves or stems.

Remember that chopping herbs is much more easier to do when the herbs are fresh; if you suffer from arthritis, fybromyalgia or any other kind of painful/debilitating condition, you should consider chopping the hardest parts, like roots and barks, before drying them. The drying process would be the same as above.

Sometimes, specially with wildharvested herbs, and for those of you who live in colder and more humid areas of the world, you will need to kill any bacteria/bugs living in them by oven drying. Keep your oven at the lowest temperature and leave the oven door slightly open for ventilation. After half an hour, bacteria or bugs will not survive and, though the plant’s power will be a little lower, it will be perfectly safe to ingest.

Depending on your weather, herbs may take from 1 to 4 weeks to dry. Once they are crunchy and soft to the touch, they are ready to be placed in a glass or ceramic jar and labelled. Remember to add the date of harvesting, as you don’t want to use herbs that have been stored for more than a year – you are not a butterfly collector, so USE what you have harvested!

 

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Wildharvested and homegrown herbs, ready to be used to make a (very delicious) herbal tea blend.

 

I use recycled and sterilized glass food jars; to sterilize the jars, place them in a tub filled with very hot water after washing them regularly, to remove all stickers and dissolve the glue; after a few hours, scrub the stickers away with a wire kitchen scrubber (and lots of patience!) and wash them again. When they are dry, rub the inside surface with alcohol (regular first aid alcohol or vodka will do). Be extremely meticulous when cleaning the lids too.

Keep your herbs in a dark place, away from strong smells and, if possible, away from heated rooms like the kitchen. If you are using your herbs for cooking, save baby food jars or spice jars to keep a small amount of the herbs in the kitchen, while the rest stays in a dark and fresh place. That way, your herbs will stay fresh and filled with healing and magical properties until the last bit is used.

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Spiritist and Artisan, follower of Maria Lionza's path. Born and living in Tenerife, one of the beautiful Canary Islands, on the Northwest coast of Africa, her artwork is deeply tied to her African heritage and Latin American Spiritism.

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