Thursday, July 09, 2009

Make Hay While the Sun Shines

Every year at this time, I find myself running in several directions, attempting to capture all of the plants that may be needed in the coming year – at just the right time, preserving them in the most perfect manner, and trying all the while to expand the variety, learn a new plant this year, eat a new wild plant or a new recipe. It can be a little overwhelming. When I first started out, more plants were missed than were hit. A few days of rain can throw off everything if you aren’t prepared. So how do you prepare to harvest and utilize a number of different plants each year? I will happily share my method, and you may change and revise it to suit your needs. ~ First make a list of the herbs you’d like to find and harvest this year. It helps if you know where they are, or if they are already in your garden, but I always have a few that are always in the “if found” category.

~ Decide how you want to use them. Will they be preserved in oil, vinegar, alcohol, or dried? Gather the supplies that you plan on using. A nice supply of ½ pint, pint and/or quart mason jars (with lids) is good to have, but hopefully you’ve been saving jars during the year..
In the spring, I purchase about a gallon of vodka. There is always lots of olive oil and jojoba here for Soapmaking, but I get good vinegar ready too.

~Stake out your means of drying the herbs. Some small flowers like chamomile and elder do very well on a screen, as do calendula petals. Other plants are great to hang upside down in a dark, well ventilated space. I was just reading about the success some are having putting their herbs in paper bags, and leaving them in the car on a hot day – it dries them quickly with very little loss of color.
I have a banister with brads along the one side to hang the bunches. Find a good, out-of-the-way spot, and prepare it for the harvest.

Now you’re ready. Make hay while the sun shines. I try to do something every day. At the moment, my kitchen counter is lined with jars of vinegars and tinctures. Lavender bunches are hanging all over the place. The oils are infusing down at the soap shed.

Right now the chamomile is being infused in alcohol. I pick and add some new ones every day as they reach the right stage. The elderflowers are starting to drop from the plant, so I go out with a newspaper and hold it underneath while giving it a gentle shake.
Sage is soaking in vinegar, and jewelweed and plantain are going into oil and vinegar. The oil is frozen for use in soaps over the winter.

But you know, I’ll still miss some. It never fails. Rain will come and make it difficult to harvest something that is precisely at the point of now or never. Vacations happen. In the long run, if you have some of them, you’ll probably wind up having what you need. The important part is starting. If at first you find that 2 of your preserved herbs helped keep your family comfortable over the winter, you’ve had a successful year. Next year will be better, and so it will go until you know exactly what you need each year.

Oh and be sure to do some things that are good for today. The cobbler below is half raspberries that we found along a fence row, and half peach. Delish!!! The recipe is Here... I just doubled it up and used a large pan. It was for the 4th of July picnic, and it went fast!


nessy said...

Thankyou for this post, it came when I needed the extra encouragement. Recently I went out to wildcraft and came back empty handed, but I will get more educated next time!

JoyceAnn said...

Hi , Love your blog ! I always feel overwhelmed this time of year too. I'm going to use some of your tips , make that list and follow through on it. The paper bag trick sounds easy , may give that a try too.

Thanks !

~ Herbal Blessings ~

Rosemary said...

Hi Tina!
Just wanted you to know that the second picture you posted (the labeled bottles, the blue bottles, the hanging herbs, the lavender wand) looks just like it could have been taken in my mom's (Bertha Reppert) house so many years ago! The eclectic mix of bottles, each labeled, the drying herbs... what a beautiful memory to see this morning! She would love to see what you are doing!
And, that mixed cobbler photo - wow! How do you decide which side to enjoy first? Looks yummy!


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