On the first post of this series, I offered a series of tips on learning about herbs for beginning Green Brujas; this second post will be focused on the drying and storage of your herbal bounty :). Enjoy!
· The first step is to clean the herbs thoroughly of dust, animal hair, insects and all kind of natural debris, specially if you have wildharvested them. Remove brown and yellow leaves and dry stalks. Keep only the best!
· Once the herbs are clean, decide which herbs will be used fresh and which ones will be set to dry; fresh herbs are better to make incense sticks, kitchen oils and vinegars, to mince and make frozen cubes of cooking herbs, and so on. All the work done with fresh herbs is your first task.
· For the herbs you want to preserve dry, branches should be hanged in bundles in a shady but well ventilated area – remember not to hang them touching a wall, or the side of the bundle touching the wall can rot. Don’t discard the stems, as many plants contain more essential oils in them than in leaves or flowers.
· If possible, do not dry herbs in the sun as the essential oils of the herbs are highly volatile and the plants will lose some of its power if sun dried. Solar drying is good for roots, fruits, berries, barks, stalks, and anything that holds plenty of water.
· Smaller amounts of herbs, moss, hair-like roots, seeds and loose flower petals should be placed on trays; either on trays made with netting for ventilation, or in regular trays lined with absorbent paper or tea towels. Again, they should be placed in a shady but well ventilated area, away from direct sun. Once a day, turn the batch around for an even drying.
· Remember that chopping herbs is much, much more easier to do when the herbs are fresh; if you suffer from arthritis, fybromyalgia or any other kind of painful/debilitating condition, you should consider chopping the hardest parts, like roots and barks, before drying them. The drying process would be the same as above.
· Those of you who live in colder and more humid areas of the world, may need to dry your herbs using heat – your regular cooking oven is always a good choice. Keep your oven at the lowest temperature and leave the oven door slightly open for ventilation. After half an hour, bacteria or bugs will not survive and, though the plant’s power will be a little lower, it will be perfectly safe to use and store.
· Depending on your weather, herbs may take from 1 to 4 weeks to dry. Once they are crunchy, paper-like and soft to the touch, they are ready to be placed in a glass or ceramic jar and labelled. Remember to add the date of harvesting, as you don’t want to use herbs that have been stored for more than a year – you are not a butterfly collector, so USE what you have harvested!
· To store herbs, I simply use recycled and sterilized glass food jars; to sterilize the jars, place them in a tub filled with very hot water after washing them regularly, to remove all stickers and dissolve the glue; after a few hours, scrub the stickers away with a wire kitchen scrubber (and lots of patience!) and wash them again. When they are dry, rub the inside surface with alcohol (regular rubbing alcohol or vodka will do). Be extremely meticulous when cleaning the lids too.
· Keep your herbs in a dark place, away from strong smells and, if possible, away from heated rooms like the kitchen. If you are using your herbs for cooking, save baby food jars or spice jars to keep a small amount of the herbs in the kitchen, while the rest stays in a dark and fresh place. That way, your herbs will stay fresh and filled with healing and magical properties until the last bit is used.
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