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7 Ways to Preserve Your Herb Harvest

When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.

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Tincturing

A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.

The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.

Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.

Drying

Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.

For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.

Freezing

Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.

In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.

In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.

On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.

Herbal Infusions

Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.

You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.

Canning

Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.

Butters

Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.

How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.

Much love,
Erin


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How to Make Herbal Bird Feeders

When we lived in southern California, we had a neighbor who absolutely loved bird feeders. He had several dozen of them hanging in the trees just outside the boundary of his patio and he would sit on his porch and watch the birds flit between them. We would pass by his apartment each day during our evening walk and the trees in that part of the community were always filled with birds. When we moved to the PNW, I began to miss having that large colony of birds nearby and started looking into bird feeders. My husband, Jon, made me a wooden one that I just love, but I also wanted to experiment with some handmade, herbal versions. This one has become my favorite.

This tutorial was first published in the July Issue of AromaCulture Magazine.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED

  • either Orange slices or halved Orange peels
  • Sunflower seed butter
  • bird seed mix
  • dried, bird-safe herbs (I'm using Calendula petals, Cornflower petals, and German Chamomile flowers. The birds here also like my Lavender after the flowers have dried.)
  • string
  • bamboo skewer

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Choose whether you'd like to work with Orange halves or slices. If you want to work with slices, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and lay out the Orange slices on it. Dry the slices in the oven at a low temperature until they hold their shape. If working with Orange halves, scoop out the fruit and dry the Orange peel in the oven as you would dry the slices.
     
  2. Use a bamboo skewer to poke a hole in the top of each dried Orange slice (or 2-3 holes per Orange half) and thread your string through the hole(s) so you'll be able to hang your bird feeder when you're finished with it.
     
  3. Dip the Orange slice in Sunflower seed butter, then dip the slice in a bowl of bird seed mixed with your herbs of choice. For this project, I chose to work with Calendula petals, Cornflower petals, and German Chamomile flowers. You could also use Lavender buds,  Coriander, or a variety of other culinary, bird-safe herbs.

    Tip: Don't use too much Sunflower seed butter or it will drip off the Orange slice. Use just enough to get your seeds to stick to the feeder.
     
  4. If using Orange halves, mix a little bit of Sunflower seed butter with your bird seed/herb mix and fill the Orange half with this blend.
     
  5. Hang the bird feeder in your garden near a place where the birds will be able to perch while they enjoy the goodies you've left them.

Enjoy! Much love,
Erin

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