Last year I spent time learning about herbs and other plants that have both culinary and medicinal uses. I dried herbs like lemon balm, mint, thyme and tarragon that friends and family gave me out of their gardens. I wildcrafted plantain and mullein before I even knew what wildcrafting meant.
I fell in love with these plants, the delicious smells of them drying in my home, and the taste of them in my meals or in tea. I learned that there is a big difference between the vibrancy of one's own freshly dried herbs, and the drab versions of dried and crushed store bought kinds.
This year I am growing many of my own herbs and learning how to identify and sustainably wildcraft plants that grow abundantly in my area. I am participating in a year long herbal apprenticeship with a local herbalist and learning which plants have medicinal value. I am learning how to make my own medicine with these plants.
Last year I had a few bunches of herbs drying in an out of the way corner and some jars of homemade tea in the cupboard.
This year my small space is increasingly filled with drying plant material and jar after jar of herbs in various forms and states for food and medicine.
To accommodate this new love in my life and home, I've set up a few simple systems to ensure that I have the time and space to do things properly, without adding extra stress or waste to my life. Please allow me to share them with you now!
I inherited some beautiful musk mallow and daisy on my garden plot.
Many other wonderful plants grow in my plot and the common spaces of the allotment gardens. My basket is full of mallow, nettle, catnip, motherwort and yarrow.
After harvesting comes the work of properly processing the plants. The kind of plant or part that I've harvested and what I'm going to do with it determines what happens next. On this day I had lots of plant material, some of it quite large, like comfrey. I planned to put most of the plants into oil so I spread everything out onto a clean sheet on my living room floor, and left it all to wilt for 24 hours. This allows excess moisture to evaporate out of the plant, which is what you want when making herb infused oils, so that they won't mold.
I save, use and reuse paper bags to dry flower heads, leaves and small, creeping plants like creeping charlie and thyme that aren't easily tied in bunches. I hang these bags from the stairway into my apartment which is a convenient, out of the way place, that gets good air circulation.
Plants large enough to be hung in bunches get strung up in the kitchen, away from the heat of the stove. As you can see my kitchen is small, but I still have space to hang quite a few bunches of herbs. It's lovely to see and smell plants hanging here while I prepare food and wash dishes.
I save all of my glass jars and they are perfect for making medicine and storing dried herbs. Here I have some plants infusing into oil.
I'm making tinctures with these plants and they are infusing in vodka.
Herbs should be stored away from light and heat. That's easy enough for me in my basement apartment! Here are some dried herbs in a cupboard.
Growing and drying your own herbs is a very simple, affordable, fun and rewarding thing to do, that doesn't have to take up a lot of space, and can be done almost anywhere.
If you don't have a garden many herbs do well in pots and can even be grown indoors in a sunny windowsill. If you live in a basement like me and don't have enough light to grow indoors, you can try wildcrafting (mint, catnip, mullein, plantain and violets are just a few plants that are easily found growing all around) or hitting up your gardening friends for fresh plants.
If you buy a bunch of fresh herbs from the store or market and find that you can't use it all up at once, don't let the rest go to waste. Hang it up to dry, store and use it for later.
But be careful! It's very easy to get addicted to growing and storing your own herbs. Before you know it you'll be spending all your free, good weather days harvesting plants, sidestepping herbs drying on a sheet in your living room and constantly stopping the sniff the air around your drying herbs!