52 Homesteading Skills in One Year – Project #4: Learning to dry herbs
The nursery plant tag read: “Easy to grow”. What it should have read was: “This is a weed.”
I have now learned to be skeptical of any plants that are “easy to grow” because what this usually means is they spread uncontrollably. Of course, I didn’t know this when I first started my perennial herb garden earlier this summer. What was supposed to be an attractively arranged herb garden mixed with vegetables and flowers turned into a jungle where only the fittest survive.
Who is responsible? Two big garden bullies named chamomile and lemon balm who are overtaking everything else in their vicinity. Both herbs should come with this warning: Plant only in locations where nothing else will survive.
This week I showed them who is boss. It was time to dry herbs. I think this is my favourite homsteading skill so far. My husband says it’s because I don’t have to do anything, but the real reason is because of the smell. Our house is now filled with the sweet and spicy smells of chamomile, lemon balm and lavender. They also happen to make the perfect cup of soothing tea, but more on that later.
I harvested my herbs in the morning after the dew had dried and before it started to get hot. Normally, it’s not recommended to harvest more than 75 per cent of one plant at a time, but I wasn’t worried about this when it came time to cut the lemon balm. I’m pretty sure it will survive.
So I cut huge swaths of it, wrapped them in twine and hung them in my bathroom until they turned dry and crispy. Yes, the bathroom. It’s a tiny room with a dehumidifier, which means things dry fast. I will admit there is one drawback to this method. You can’t shower. But that’s okay. My family was happy to hose off outside for a couple days. Well, the kids were. My husband not so much.
Anyway, if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you can also hang your herbs in any dry location in your home out of direct sunlight – but it will take longer.
You can also speed up the process by placing them in the oven. This is a great way to dry herbs such as chamomile. Simply preheat your oven to 170 degrees. Arrange your herbs on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Then turn the oven off and leave them there overnight. Crumble and store until you’re ready to steep.
By the way, did you know chamomile tea is made with the flowers? Those teeny, tiny white daisy-like flowers? I just learned this fact this week. If I had known earlier, I might have thought twice about buying a chamomile plant because, of course, you have to pick those flowers by hand. So I cheated and added some leaves too. They aren’t as strong tasting as the flowers, but still give off a nice flavour.
Despite the extra work of harvesting the chamomile, it was worth it. Chamomile, or the night time tea as it is often called, promotes a good night’s sleep. And who can’t use more of that? In fact, the only thing better than chamomile tea to help you relax after a long week is chamomile mixed with calming lavender and lemon balm. Lemon balm is a stress reducer and may even boost your mood thanks to its ability to soothe the nervous system.
So the next time you’re feeling stressed out and sleepless, brew up a cup of this calming herbal tea.
Stress Busting, Sleep Inducing Homemade Tea
1 part chamomile
1 part lavender
2 parts lemon balm
1 tsp honey per cup (optional)
Mix the herbs together and add a heaping teaspoon to your tea brewing cup, infuser or good old-fashioned strainer. Cover with boiling water and steep the herbs in your favourite tea cup for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Enjoy before drifting off to sleep. I would love to hear what you thought of the tea. Let me know in the comments below.