How to Dry Out Herbs/Flowers for Tea
First off an herb is a plant that is valued for flavor, scent, medicinal or other qualities. Herbs are used in cooking, as medicines, and for spiritual purposes. There are some really remarkable herbs out there in the world. Not only are there a world of flavors and scents, but some herbs are even 'smart' in the non-traditional sense. When I say 'smart', I just mean rapid plant movement. The Mimosa pudica is most known for this. If you touch it's leaves it will react very quickly and retract it's leaves for protection. It's rather amazing. Watch:
Anyway...I'm not going to go into details about the mimosa pudica or why and how it does that when touched. Basically, plants are awesome. They can be as complex and complicated as the human body. Nature has made them perfect. Some grow year after year and some need to be replanted every year. Either way, they know what to do with themselves and there is no such thing as an herb that doesn't grow in the wild. These are not man made things. It's only through years and years of studying them and using them that we have now began to be able to use them to their full potential.
Herbal remedies and drinks have been around a lot longer than vaccines. That doesn't mean they are better or you should give up on modern medicine. Honestly, I'd be dead now if it weren't for modern medicine, but that doesn't mean I can't believe in the power of herbal remedies.
In my opinion, the best way to drink herbals is in tea form.
The best way to start this is by locating your herb of choice. If you're not familiar or well versed in which herbs are dangerous and not to be ingested and which ones are safe, the best way to go is to go for the well known, safe herbs: Chamomile, Catnip, Horehound, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Rose Hips, Sassafras. There are hundreds of other plants to choose from, but I suggest extensive reading and research before just picking up some random plant off the ground and brewing it in a tea ball. This blog will contain plenty of herbs and flowers that are safe to ingest, such as the Viola from the other day, but that doesn't mean everything in your yard is safe.
Using a very sharp knife or garden scissors cut your stems. Do not pick them as it will cause bruising on the stem and a place for decomposition to start. Leave an extra inch or two at the bottom of your herbs for bundling. Harvest your herbs in the late morning when all the dew has had a chance to dry. This helps to prevent mildew. Gently shake herbs to remove any bugs. Visually inspect herbs. Remove any damaged leaves or flowers with your sharp knife before drying.
Once you have your herb/flower/plant, the first thing you have to do to it is wash it. Just find a strainer and rise it with cold water. I said cold water, not warm or hot. Warm and hot water can damage the plant and cause it to lose some of it's natural goodness by starting a slow 'cooking' process. After rinsing them, I would suggest pat drying them. You don't have to make them perfectly dry, just get some of the excess water off. Again, pat dry. Don't put them in a towel and start rubbing. Just a nice, easy, gentle patting over the herbs.
Next step is to bundle them for drying. While you can use the herbs right away, just drop them in the hot water and let them steep (or crush them just a little to help them release better), I find the best herbal teas are the ones with dried herbs and flowers. Why? They are more concentrated and they last longer. For drying, you need to bundle them and there are two ways you can do that. One is to just bunch them together and put a string or rubber band around the cut end. You want it tight enough that they won't wiggle loose during drying, but loose enough so that air can flow through. The other way, and the way I don't usually use, is to paper bag it. Using paper lunch sacks that you have prepared by cutting a couple dozen half inch holes in on the sides of the bag, not the bottom or within 1 inch of the bottom, place your herbs in the sack. You will want the 1 to 2 inch of your stalks to be outside of the opening of your bag. Then using your rubber band or a piece of string secure the open end of bag to the stalks.
Do not bundle different herbs together as their flavors and fragrances will transfer to each other during the drying process.
For drying, you just hang your bundles either on a drying rack or you can add an extra bit of string to the tie and hang them from those little hooks on plastic clothes hangers. Just make sure the bundles are not laying against a wall or anything. You want them to have air flow. They need to hang somewhere open. Honestly, I've used my closet. I clear out a side of it and put a towel on the floor to catch and falling pieces and space out the hangers. You want them out of direct sunlight with good air flow. You can even dry them outside in a shady area so long as you bring them in every night. No matter where you place your herbs for drying, try to put something under them. Cause when they start drying out, they are likely to release seeds. You can collect them and use them for growing next year or for adding to food for flavor or just feed the birds.
You'll know your herbs/flowers are dried enough when the leaves crumble easily.
At this point, you'll want to store them. See my Tea Storage
entry. It needs to be air tight, keep away from heat and light, and don't put it in your fridge.
To make tea with it, just take a good pinch (about a teaspoon) of your herb/flower and put it into a tea ball and brew to your desired strength.Warning:
As I said before, some herbs are not to be ingested. Also, if you get your herbs from a store, they were likely sprayed with pesticides (unless the tags state that they weren't). Do not brew these. Even washing doesn't get it all off. You're better off growing your own or picking them from a place that you know there is no pesticide spraying. Most herbs are not difficult to grow and can be easily grown in a window sill if you don't want or have the space outside. The benefit to home growing is that you'll always know what it was grown with.
Also, always check with your doctor before starting home made remedies for your illnesses. Sure, it's alright for a simple sore throat or cough to try these first, but if you have a serious problem that needs medication, talk to your doctor first! These are not medical facts, these are wives tales and home brewed. Never replace a medicine with a home brew before talking to your doctor.
Plants can be very dangerous, but there are plenty of books out there that can help you study to know which ones are not and are good for tea. I suggest The Herb Book
by Dr. John Lust. It can be difficult to find, but if you can find it, it's wonderful and informative. Of course, that's not the only herb book out there. The larger bookstores usually have a nature or gardening section, or even check the New Age sections.