Any herbs with thin leaves or petals are suitable for pressing. The pressed specimens can then be used in herbal crafts. Avoid herbs with thick, fleshy leaves and flowers and always select perfect sprigs, delicate flowers or individual leaves and petals. Snip them neatly, removing petals gently from thick flowers or cutting leaves or leaflets into small groups.
You an use a book or sheets of stiff card to press your herbs. A special flower press made up of a number of sheets of still card fixed together at the corners with butterfly screws is useful but not essential, unless you plan to do a great deal of pressed flower work. Protect books from flower dyes with sheets of whit e tissue paper. You will also need some blotting paper or absorbent paper the same size as the press or books and some heavy books or other weights if you do not have a press.
Lay the leaves and flowers on a sheet of absorbent paper, using plastic tweezers or a soft paintbrush to lift or move them and making sure they do not touch each other. Cover carefully with another sheet and place them in the press, between the sheets of card or between the pages of the book. Tighten the screws, press the card down with weights or absorbent paper; you may need to do this two or three times if the material is very moist. Leave for about six months; the longer the specimens are left, the less likely they are to fade when exposed to light.
Preserving in Oil, Vinegar or Salt
By storing herbs in oil, you not only preserve the herbs but also create wonderful fragrant oils for use in cooking or cosmetics. You can also preserve herbs in vinegar, creating aromatic herbal vinegars for use in sauces, salad dressing, pickles and chutneys (pg 16).
Large leafed herbs, such as sage, can be stored layered in a jar with course salt. They will keep for several months and impart their own flavor to the salt.
Preserving with Glycerine
Preserving plant stems in glycerine solution is suitable for some herbs, such as bay and sorrel. The technique darkens the leaves and makes them soft and pliable with lovely sheen.
Pick perfect twigs in summer when the new shoots are growing. Whisk one part glycerine with two parts very hot water until thoroughly blended and then pour the solution into a vase. Stand the twigs in the solution, making sure they reach the base of the container and leave them undisturbed for about two weeks until the tips of the leaves are brown and glossy. When they are ready, you can paint them with a varnish or spray with hair lacquer to help to preserve them. Strain the solution and use it again.
Kali S. Winters
The most common way to preserve herbs is to dry them. This method is perfect for many common herbs. There are other techniques, however, which are more appropriate to particular herbs to preserve their qualities more effectively.
Drying in Trays
Drying eliminates the water in the herb but retains its essential oils. Whichever drying method you use, herbs should be dried quickly at an even temperature, out of direct sunlight. The air must be able to circulate around the herbs and it is best to keep individual herbs separate as they are drying.
To dry herbs naturally, spread the herb sprigs, roots, petals or seed heads evenly over trays lined with sheets of absorbent paper, such as newspaper. For larger leafed plants, such as lovage and comfrey, remove the leaves form the sprigs before you dry them. Leave the herbs for a week or so until completely dry, turning them regularly and replacing the paper if it absorbs too much moisture. Roots will take a little longer.
If you dry herbs regularly, it is worth making a drying frame. Stretch muslin (cheesecloth) or fine netting over a rectangular wooden frame and lay the herbs on the frame to dry. The frames can be stacked on top of on another as long as there is about 2 inches between them. Place newer herbs on top of the drier ones as the moisture will rise.
You can speed up the drying process by placing the trays or frames in a warm airing cupboard for three or four days. Alternatively, you can dry them in the plate-warming section of a cooker or at the bottom of a conventional over with the door agar, leaving the oven on its lowest setting for a few hours. If you have a traditional fuel-burning stove, you can dry the herbs in the slow oven.
One modern method is to use the microwave, which I tend to not recommend due to the uneven drying process..However, if you would like to try this method, spread out the herbs on three layers of paper towels and cover with another sheet of paper towel. The herbs will take only 2-3 minutes on high, but will be ruined if you leave them too long. Therefore it is best to microwave for 30 seconds, check and turn them over, then continue in short bursts until they are dry.
The most modern method is the dehydrator, which I tend to use most often in the winter months. You will want to remember to check your herbs frequently and rotate the trays accordingly.
Drying in Bunches
Herb flowers, such as chamomile, feverfew, lavender, sorrel or tansy, sprigs such as rosemary, sage or bay, or seed heads such as fennel, can be air-dried in bunches. Tie four or five herb sprigs loosely into a bunch by the stems and hang them upside-down in a dry, well-ventilated room where the temperature remains constant, keeping them out of direct sunlight. A spare room, dry attic or a bedroom are all suitable.
When drying herbs with large flower heads, such as chives, the flowers must rest on a wire mesh screen with the stems hanging down, as the drying stems cannot stand the weight of the flower heads. Large seed heads, such as fennel, lovage, caraway or chervil, or large herbs such as angelica, can be dried upright in empty vases.
Preparing and Storing Dried Herbs
Once the herbs are dry, they will feel crisp and papery and will snap easily between finger and thumb. Then remove the leaves from small-leafed herbs, run your fingers down the stalks and the leaves will rub off. For herbs, the larger leaves, you may need to hand-pick the leaves from the stalks then crumble them between your fingers, or place the leaves in a paper bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Another method is to rub the herbs through a fine mesh before discarding the stems.
Dried herbs must be stored in airtight containers, preferable in a dark cupboard. The containers should be labeled wiht the name of the herb and the date of preserving. Even dried herbs will not keep indefinitely so do not dry in larger quantifies than you are likely to use.
Seeds can simply be shaken off the dried flower heads then sieved or hand-picked to remove unwanted chaff. If you are storing them for planting the following season, wrap them in foil and then seal in an envelope labeled with the name of the seed, the date of collection and any other details such as the variety or flower color. Seeds for culinary use can be stored in an airtight jar, labeled with the name of the seed and date of preserving and kept in a dark cupboard.
To preserve complete flower heads for dried arrangements or to garnish potpourri, desiccants are used; these are crystals that absorb moistures from a flower while preserving its shape. The easiest to use is silica gel, which you can buy from the most craft stores. Grind it down in a food processor or with a pestle and mortar until it is as fine as caster (superfine) sugar.
Spread a layer of desiccant in the bottom of a plastic box. Arrange the flower heads on the surface and cover with desiccant gently, sprinkling it between the petals. Dry bell-shaped flowers upside down so that the bells fill with desiccant. Seal the box and leave it undisturbed for five days, during which time the silica crystals will turn from blue to pink. Brush off a little of the desiccant and if the flowers are dry and make a rustling, papery sound when moved, remove them from the box and brush them clean.
Bend a small hook at the end of a piece of florist’s (floral) wire and push it through the flower head, pulling it back to secure it. Wind gutta-percha tape diagonally around the stem to cover the wire and store the delicate flowers upright in dry florist’s foam (Styrofoam).
Reactivate the desiccant by spreading it on a baking sheet and placing it at the bottom of a low oven until its color turns back to blue. Sieve it to remove any particles and store for future use.
Kali S. Winters
It is important to harvest your herbs at their peak so that you can preserve the maximum of their essential fragrances and flavors. Whether your are going to use them fresh in a salad, or dry them for crafts or Culinary Purposes use. They should be at their best.
Using Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs have only a limited life span before they begin to lose their qualities, so if you have herbs in the garden, only pick what you need when you need it. Use a sharp pair of scissors so that you do not damage the plant; most garden herbs will benefit from such regular trimming.
If you need to store fresh herbs, wash them gently, taking care not to bruise the leaves. Shake them dry, then place them in an unsealed polythene bag and keep at the bottom of the refrigerator; they will last for about a week.
Leaves & Flowers
When you are harvesting herbs for preserving, pick them at their most aromatic. Choose a dry day, as the herbs need to be as dry as possible when you pick them and be up early; harvest in the morning when the dew has dispersed, before the midday heat.
Leaves should be harvested just before the herb comes into flower. Snip off sprigs about 10cm/4 inches long, using sharp scissors so that you leave a clean cut and do not damage the tender stems of the plant. Flower heads should generally be harvested when the flowers have just opened and are in perfect shape; lavender flowers, however should be slightly immature.
Deal with small quantities at a time for the best results and collect only the plants that are healthy, well established and free from disease or pests. Handle the herbs carefully as they bruise easily and bruising will affect their flavor and aroma. Never leave cut herbs lying around waiting to be prepared, as they will rapidly deteriorate; deal with them as quickly as possible.
Roots and Seeds
Roots are usually lifted in autumn at the end of the growing season, when they are mature and richest in stored food. Lift the whole root with a fork, being careful not to puncture the skin. Shake off excess soil and carefully wash the roots. Cut off the top growth and fibrous rootleys then cut the root into section or slices.
Seed heads are ready for harvesting when the seeds are ripe and brown, just before the plant is ready to shed them. Check the seed heads by rubbing one between your palms; the seeds should shed easily. Put a muslin (cheesecloth) or paper bag over the seed head and secure with a twist-tie or twist of wire. Now the seed heads can be snipped off without losing any of the seeds.
Successful Gardening ~
Kali S. Winters
To create a healing poultice after harvesting and drying herbs from your garden, place any of the following over a pot of rapidly boiling water: a steamer, heatproof colander, a strainer or even a sieve. Then add up to 2 ounces — or ¼ cup of your herb into the container, not the water itself. Reduce the heat under the water so it just simmers. Cover the pot.
Allow the steam to penetrate through the herbs until they have wilted. This should occur within five (5) minutes. Next, spread the softened, warm herbs on cheesecloth, folding one layer of the cloth over the herb itself. Apply this directly to the affected area of the body. To help retain the heat longer, cover the poultice with a towel or even a woolen cloth.
The poultice can remain in place for at least twenty minutes. In fact, you can even leave it on overnight. But it absolutely must be covered.
If you prefer to make your pulped poultice from your fresh herb garden, place the herbs between two layers of cheesecloth thats twice the size of the affected area. Take a rolling pin – or other equally heavy round object — and finely crush the herbs. You’ll know that the herbs are sufficiently crushed when the cloth feels damp from the moisture of the herbs themselves.
If you have a food processor, you may want to place the herbs in that. If you go this route, then mix a small amount of hot water with them. Otherwise you will need to crush the herbs manually as indicated above.
After the herbs have been processed or crushed, place them on cheesecloth to retain the ” juices ” and to help hold the herbs in place. A poultice like this may also remain on the affected area overnight, if necessary.
The key to a poultices effectiveness is that you can only use this particular batch of herbs only once. Don’t try to store a used poultice and use it again. Toss it out and start all over again the following day or even several hours later.
Kali S Winters
Learn which herbs to use in your poultice and what ailments a poultice alleviates by obtaining my e-book, “Holistic Herbs~A Guide to Herbal Gardening.”