By Shirley Benson, Wisconsin – Going from fresh herbs to dried herbal teas is a wonderful, inexpensive way to cure many of your daily aches and pains, but they should not be used indiscriminately. If you are going to be raising, harvesting and drinking herbal teas, you should research each tea very carefully. This is easy to do using the internet, herb books, and publications.
Do not just read one article and then form an opinion. Read many articles and then check the author’s background. Find out who sponsored the surveys; did they have a special interest? Are they trying to sell you something? Only after a thorough research should you make up your mind, and then always be open to possibilities.
Attention should be paid to the kind of medications you are taking and the effects of the herb on your own personal condition. Always read the section on side effects. Serious thought should be given to allergies. Test each tea slowly and in small amounts until any possible reactions can be determined. As you go, make your own healing herbs list to keep track of which herbs you use for what, and how you felt during and after use.
Natural herbs really are medicines. If you read labels carefully you will discover many of the over-the-counter remedies you buy are actually made from herbs you will recognize.
Gathering and curing your herbal teas is simple and inexpensive. A visit to a natural food shop will convince you of what a great idea it is. Many of the teas you will use will be priced from $12 to $20 for a 16 to 18-ounce jar, but these jars do not hold that many ounces of tea. With just a little searching you will find places where you can gather these herbs for free. Knowing how to go from fresh herbs to dried for making your own herbal teas is even more cost-effective. There are plenty of options for growing herbs outdoors during the growing season as well as growing herbs indoors year-round so that you always have some fresh herbs on hand or some combination of the two that will suit your particular needs best.
When possible, herbs for teas should be air dried, as heat has a tendency to destroy vitamins and other healthful elements.
Gather your tea leaves/fruit early, as soon as the dew has dried, in remote areas away from dusts and industrial sprays. When it is necessary to wash the leaves, wash in warm water, shake off the excess and allow them to dry on a towel or newspapers to remove as much moisture as possible. Continue the drying process stirring and turning every three or four hours for the first day. Never gather under power lines or along busy highways.
Some people tie the herbs in small bundles and hang them upside down in a dry place. This will work but I find unless the bundles are very small or the humidity low, they tend to mold or don’t dry evenly. The easiest way for me is to use screens in the garage. Set the screens on a support so the air will circulate around them and keep out of direct sunlight. Put only one kind of herb on a screen at a time as the leaves will break off and mix.
Stir the leaves now and then so they dry evenly and when crispy, pick out the sticks and foreign articles and store in freezer bags or glass jars. If necessary, when going from fresh herbs to dried, they may be finished in a dehydrator at the lowest heat setting.
Remember, when harvesting the leaves to respect the plant. Never strip the branches, but pick a few leaves here and there. Plants like blackberry and raspberry thrive on pruning, so cutting stems works well. Dry the leaves on the stems and then, wearing gloves, hold the stem in one hand and strip the leaves from the branch. It is then easy to clean the leaves.
Looking at my garden herbs list, I know that these herbs grown outside tend to have thick stems and retain water. I find it is best to gather a using scissors, clip the leaves from the stems, then dry. If it is necessary to use other methods of drying due to high humidity, etc., always use the lowest temperature possible when going from fresh herbs to dried.
Teas should be kept as air-free as possible and stored in a dark cool place. Teas tend to lose their potency over time, so it is a good idea to harvest what you will use and then replace them each season. I oven can mine, reusing my canning lids that I have saved. I do this to keep them free of moisture, mold and insects, and for my convenience. You will have to decide how you wish to store your teas.
Originally published in the May/June 2014 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.