How To Properly Dry Plants And Herbs For Medicine
Gathering Herbs For Medicinal Use
Where and how you gather your herbs is extremely important. The first concern is that you are 100% certain of your plant identification before you harvest it. Using the wrong herb could be life threatening, so make sure you know the herb well before using it.
Consider downloading a plant identification app onto your phone, these can be very, very helpful if you’re not sure what the plant or herb is or isn’t.
Next, you must be careful of where you gather or grow your herbs. Your backyard herb garden is hopefully safe from all toxins, pesticides, and herbicides. But the same cannot be said when gathering in the wild. Choose natural sites, far away from traffic and dump sites. Car exhaust, herbicides sprayed to control weeds, and other pollutants can contaminate herbs grown along the roadside. Likewise, old industrial sites or dump sites are not suitable because of potential toxins.
Drying Your Medicinal Herbs
Once you’ve harvested your herbs from a clean site, you want to process them immediately to protect their potency until you are ready to use them. If you are not using your herbs fresh, drying them is an excellent option for preserving them. Drying or dehydrating can be done in several different ways.
Air Drying Medicinal Herbs
Air drying is another method of drying herbs that works well in dry climates. You need a warm, shady spot with good ventilation. You don’t want them in the sun because the intense heat and sun can quickly degrade the herbs.
1. Gather the herbs into small bundles and bind them at one end with a small rubber band. Hang them upside down in an out of the way spot, until they are completely dry.
Some people hang them in the kitchen window, but I recommend choosing a spot out of direct sunlight. but any warm, well-ventilated spot will work.
2. If the herbs contain seeds or tiny leaves that might release when dry; place the herb bundle in a small paper bag to catch the seeds or leaves.
3. Another possibility is to place them on an oven rack or elevated screen on a countertop. Make sure that air can flow freely under and around each sprig.
4. Air drying herbs takes longer, usually several days. Check them daily and turn them as needed to allow them to dry evenly. Make sure they are completely dry before storing.
Oven Drying And Microwave Drying
I don’t recommend oven drying or microwave drying because the herbs can easily get too hot and lose their medicinal qualities. Why go to all the work to gather, dry, and store herbs, if they are no longer potent enough to be of use? If you do choose to use an oven or microwave, use the lowest possible settings and take them out as quickly as possible.
Processing And Storing Your Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are dry, it is time to sort them and prepare them for long term storage. This process is called garbling. Follow these steps to get your dried herbs ready to store:
Place your herbs into a plastic bag or glass jar for a day, before moving them to long term storage. If you see any condensation on the bag or jar, they need to dry longer.
Separate the leaves, flowers, stems, and roots, discarding unwanted parts. Each plant part has different uses; do the research on your plant to know which parts are most valuable.
As you sort, test the dryness by breaking into the larger pieces of stem and root to make sure they are completely dry. If they bend or seem pliable at all, put them back to dry longer.
Store your dried herbs in airtight containers away from heat and light. I like to use mason jars with a tight-fitting lid and store them in a dark cabinet.
Check the jars occasionally to make sure they are dry and have no mold growth. If properly stored, there should be no color change or bad smells. Throw them out if you detect any changes in quality.
Use your herbs within two years for best potency. I prefer to harvest my medicinal herbs every year to make sure I always have a potent batch available.