From the Beleno Center 2/25/17 Workshop
Building Your Local Food Community Resource Guide
Workshop: Garden Herbs 101
Homegrown Holistic Health: Garden Herbs 101 with Farmer Liz
Drying Herbs – Fresh is best, but we can’t always swing that. To dry herbs: Air dry the herbs in a warm, well-ventilated room that’s out of direct sunlight. Make sure the leaves you are using are clean and free of dust and dirt, and pat them dry to remove any outside moisture.
You can hang your small bunches on strings across or down a wall, but make sure that the bunches are small enough that the stems aren’t cramped – or lay in a thin layer on a screen. I use a dehydrator to expedite my demands, but I dry at 90-95 degrees for the lowest impact. I also hang bunches in the greenhouse to dry.
To make a blend, take the herbs you want and keep them together in a jar for ten days to mix their aromas and energies, and then drink. I store as much of my herbs as possible as whole leaves, to better retain smell, taste and potency, and crush them as I use them. I love storing in glass, but airtight containers of other sorts kept out of sunlight are also good.
Infusing A Tea – Bring water to a boil, shred leaves (fresh if you can get them, but if not, I say 1-2 teaspoons of dry herbs per 1-2 cups), and dump the boiling water over the leaves. Let steep for seven to nine minutes, depending on desired flavor and potency.
Anise Hyssop – A symbol of change. This one aids digestion, promotes clarity, and boosts the immune system. It has a beautiful scent, and planted, attracts pollinators (namely honeybees, but tons of butterflies as well), and seeds itself. Its scent aids calms the stomach and can help open the lungs.
Basil – Anyone who’s eaten pesto or recalls the taste of a fresh tomato with a few fresh leaves of basil knows its cooking versatility. The antibacterial properties of basil come from its volatile oil content, protecting you on a cellular level; it inhibits the activity of a specific enzyme in the human body linked to inflammation; a good source of beta-carotene, which translates into Vitamin A in the human body; aromatically, can help with nausea or motion sickness.
Chamomile –Used as a mild, relaxing sleep aid and a way to soothe the nerves. The flowers are delicate and beautiful, and can be added to topical creams to soothe cuts and burns and to moisturize the skin. Drink it as a tea to calm, or use topically in cream or oil form.
Lavender – This one promotes calming and peace. It symbolizes devotion and has been known to ease dreaming. I keep it in sachets near my bed, I keep a vase of it in my house, I dry some and have it in my truck. It’s taste is potent, but very powerful.
Lemon Balm – This one does lose some flavor in the drying process – Use it fresh, when you can! Its therapeutic uses include the relief of anxiety and stress, aids in digestion and circulation, and general mood elevation. Its traditional symbolic meanings include offering sympathy and promoting regeneration.
Lovage – This one is, essentially, a perennial, herbal celery. It’s more potent than its vegetable counterpart flavor-wise, and is rich in B-complex vitamins. Great for soup stocks or salads; it’s a diuretic but doesn’t cause the loss of electrolytes; its quercetin content promotes allergy support; aromatically, it’s a stimulant similar to mint
Mint – It’s a common one, but a good one. I will say that leaving your mint patch unattended could be a bit dangerous for the rest of your yard or veggie patch – it tends to spread prolifically. It can fill a container, if you’d like to keep it manageable. This is a spearmint, which aids in digestion, boosts the immune system, relieves muscle aches and tension headaches, helps alleviate colds and coughs, and gives your morning a boost without caffeine.
Oregano – A huge immune booster, oregano has one of the highest antioxidant ratings. It is antifungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory; traditional in the Mediterranean it symbolized happiness, and was used in wedding ceremonies. Lifts your mood and is great in marinades, particularly meats, dressings and other seasoning blends.
Parsley – Incredibly high in iron, this herb is linked to the reduction of menstrual cramps and some of its volatile oils have been linked to tumor reduction. It’s a great source of folic acid and is often used as a breath freshener. Great in salads, particularly raw.
Sage – This is a big one for immunity boosting, and for clearing a space. Its symbolism includes esteem, strength and goodness. It helps with memory recall, menopause, excessive sweating, colds and coughs and sore throats. To me, this is an herb of nostalgia, one that makes me think of winter and holiday and warmth.
Sorrel – This is a perennial green, eaten in small quantities in salads because of its oxalic acids but enjoyed because of its sharp, tangy, lemony flavor. High in fiber and a significant source of potassium, which helps reduce stress on the cardiovascular system. Used traditionally all over the world in soups, salads and teas. In Pennsylvania, it’s often one of the first greens to unearth itself in early spring. Self-seeds.
Thyme – As an essential oil, it is used to cure coughs. It adds a savory, notable flavor to food, in everything from soups to mushrooms to zucchini; offers antimicrobial properties through the body and is a good source of Vitamins C and A as well as a number of minerals. Traditionally, used to symbolize courage.
Others to look into: Basil varieties (particularly Sacred or Tulsi), Feverfew, Savory, Tarragon, Lemon Verbena
Flower Essences – This is more of an esoteric construct; 1930s British physician Edward Bach felt that individual flowers infused into water left an energetic footprint that could affect us on an emotional and spiritual level. Flower remedies also have a natural affinity to the seven energy centers of the body known as chakras, and they have no side effects when used, which means minimal impact on our physical bodies. They can be taken in orally, added to your bath, mixed with lotion and applied directly to your skin, or spayed as a mist that can be absorbed from the air.
For instance: Beebalm – An excellent choice to put some zip back in to your life
German Chamomile: Look to chamomile for feelings of stress and unbalance. Soothes the solar plexus.
Where to buy herbs: Local farmers’ markets are loaded with dried and fresh herbs. And a lot of us grow herbs but don’t always bring them to market because of their delicate shelf life and limited sale viability. If you have a CSA farmer or a favorite grower at your regular market, ask them if they grow herbs. At the very least, they can point you in the direction of someone/somewhere that will have what you’re looking for. Fresh is best. Which is why you should grow your own! Seed Companies like Johnny’s, High Mowing, Fedco, Baker’s Creek and others typically have a solid variety of herb seeds, particularly organic. The Thyme Garden and Strictly Medicinals offer some more atypical varieties. There are dozens of other reputable sources in this vein.
Crooked Row, Red Cat, Meadow View and many other farms sell herb starts at the start of the growing season.