by Kris Vaughan, CH
As an herbalist, there is nothing more peaceful and soul stirring than the time we spend collecting and harvesting our medicinal herbs. Some of us grow them in our gardens where we are able to commune with them on a daily basis and others enjoy foraging in the wild for our medicinal plant partners. Whichever way you choose to gather your medicinal herbs, it is important to know how to properly dry and store them for future use.
First, let me just give a safety reminder to anyone wishing to gather herbs in the wild. It is extremely important that you first are 100% certain of the plant’s identity before you harvest it. You would not want to assume you are collecting yarrow only to accidently find that you have instead collected poison hemlock. For your safety, take the time to do your research and thoroughly study the flower, leaf, and stem structure of the plant you wish to collect in order to be certain that you have the right plant for your needs.
Now, you have gathered the medicinal herbs you planned to harvest and have filled your basket or satchel with your new medicine partners. So what’s next?
After you harvest your herbs, the next step is to preserve them in a way that prolongs their potency for future use. This allows us to have access to these medicinal herbs all year long. Drying (dehydrating) your herbs can be done in one of two easy ways at home.
Herbs dry best in warm, shaded, well-ventilated areas. It is not recommended to dry them in the sun; the intense heat and rays of the sun can quickly degrade the plants medicinal constituents. Instead, I prefer to create small bundles of herbs that I hold together with a rubber band placed at the end of the stems. I then hang them upside down on a string in my kitchen window until they are dried completely. For each herb, the drying time will be different so check them daily. You may also choose to lay your herbs flat on a screen or oven rack placed on the counter. This way allows air to flow freely through the plant while they dry but it does take up valuable counter space for several days to a week.
If you have a food dehydrator, you can complete the drying process very quickly. You just set your dehydrator and be on your way.
If you are choosing to dry roots of herbs, I recommend that you clean and chop your roots while they are fresh, before drying. Once a root dries it may become so dense and tough that cutting it into small pieces could take an act of God. Doing some chopping ahead of time will save you a great deal of heartache.
Garbling Your Dried Herbs
Once you have completed the drying process, it is time to garble your herbs. Garbling is the process of separating the leaves, flowers, and stem portions and discarding the unwanted parts. Each medicinal herb has its own medicinal part so be sure to research which part you are wanting from your chosen herb.
Storing Your Herbs
Once you have completed your drying and garbling it is time to store your herbs. For best preservation, you want to keep your herbs in airtight containers and away from excess heat and sunlight. I prefer to store my herbs in large mason jars with a tight fitting lid and then placed in a cupboard. If you have open shelves in your kitchen that do not receive direct sunlight then your jars of herbs would be a beautiful addition to your décor.
Herbs should maintain their potency in your mason jars for up to two years as long as they were dried properly. It would be wise to check them periodically to be certain there is no mold growth; A few ways to determine if your herbs are still good is to observe any changes in their color and aroma. If you find that they just don’t look or smell right, then it is time to toss them.
Now that you know how to dry and store your medicinal herbs, you have the tools to create an herbal pharmacy right in your own home. Have fun and happy harvesting!
Kris Vaughan is the owner, Program Director, and Instructor for Herbal Wisdom Institute. Learn more about Kris here.