Picking herbs is an amazing experience for every enthusiast, even if only for the knowledge that they can later mix up and prepare their own aromatic, delicious tea.
SEVERAL TIPS FOR HERB PICKING
It should be done with herbs as with mushrooms – pick only those you know well, as some wild-growing species are poisonous. Beginners should definitely own a pocket herbal guide and bring it along. Only ever pick herbs in places that are not contaminated, and never pick moldy or infested plants. Also make sure that you leave a couple behind in a place where many grow, so that they can multiply further. It can also help to bring a small gardening shovel and a basket.
The general rule of thumb is that roots should be picked in the morning or the evening. Pieces of the plant above ground like blooms, leaves or haulms are best picked at midday.
Which parts of herbs should we pick and when?
Collect blossoms when they are in bloom. Once they start fading away, the number of effective compounds starts to decrease. Haulms are best picked when the plant starts blossoming, or right before it starts fading.
Roots should be picked during dormancy, meaning in early spring or fall. It is during those times that the plant is at the peak of its strength, meaning it has the most medicinal properties. The root is best picked right after a rain shower by carefully taking it out with a small gardening shovel.
Many herbalists also follow the traditions of our grandmothers, using deer antlers or wooden instruments for plucking out the roots, so that the herb does not come in contact with metal. This decision is up to you.
DRYING THE HERBS
Herb-drying is one of the essential skills of a true herbalist, so you should know the rules. A sheaf of dried herbs hanging in the kitchen will pleasantly aromatize your entire house – remember that!
The first rule is to remove grass and other redundant materials like leaves, twigs and various insects that may be on the bottom of the leaves. Another rule is never to wash the herbs with water before drying them.
Furthermore, never dry them in the sun, but in a dark, dry, warm and well-ventilated spot. The attic works well, as there one can also hang multi-layered nets for herb drying. The herbs can be also spread in a thin layer on clean wrapping paper, or they can be bundled together and hung on a string, for example. In the case of root-drying, it is necessary to cut these parts into small, thin slices, so that they dry out well. Once they’ve dried, they can be further ground, even into a dust-like powder.
With some herbs one has to expect some loss of color and aroma, but in some herbs they actually improve after the process. The temperature of the room where they are being dried should not exceed 86 – 45° F / 30 – 45 °C. The kitchen is not an appropriate place for drying, as there is excess residual humidity from cooking – it is better to place the dried bundles there.
The faster we dry the herbs, the stronger their aroma will be. The more aromatic ones should be dried separately (such as mint, lovage, thyme, basil or salvia). The drying process can be sped up with intermittent manual flipping of the herbs. That they are dry enough is signalized by the fact that the stems break, the leaves are fragile and twisted, and it all makes a nice rustling sound.
The best containers for herb storing are paper sacks, tins, dark-glass jars or grocery boxes. Textile pouches are not recommended as they will not protect the herb from humidity. If we store the herbs separately according to species, some can last for up to two years. However, if blooms are stored, they should be used within a year. You can label the containers and store them in the pantry.