Harvesting and drying herbs

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Harvesting and drying herbs -
How to preserve herbs for later use in remedies

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Although I mentioned in the preceding section I again reiterate that harvesting is a very important part of herbal medicine. There is little point in painstakingly drying and packing the leaves of a herb if it was the bark or root that needed to be harvested.

In most of the books on herbal medicines available today as well as my pages the part used for making the herbal remedy is specified. If that is not enough information I suggest that you research the matter as harvesting is often the most important step in this process.

Some herbs can be used fresh, particularly for culinary purposes, but to ensure that you have an adequate supply all year round drying is the only real option. Some herbs respond to freezing too but as most herbs are foliage the freezing process pretty much destroys the herb.

In the old days herbs were tied in bunches (or bark and roots were laid out on a tray or netting) and hung or placed in a warm and dry place in the shade (see preservation and storage sunlight is not good)  until brittle and this is not a bad way to go even today.

There are some drawbacks with the above approach. In some climates it is not always easy to find a dry, warm shady place. Too much moisture may rot the herbs or even cause a fungus to grow in which case the whole lot has to be discarded. Hanging bunches of leaves may not take up much space but racks of drying roots, twigs and bark do and they take much linger to dry.

The worst drawback is in those herbs that contain a volatile oil, which more often than not is where the desirable constituents occur. Prolonged drying loses a lot of the aromatic oils which will have a negative effect on the efficacy of the finally dried herb.

For home use I have found that the fruit driers and beef jerky driers that are easily available do a great job. On a moderate setting these will dry even the most stubborn roots, if sliced properly, in less than a fortnight. You will still lose some of the volatile oils (to prevent this takes expensive sophisticated equipment) but not as much as prolonged exposure to the weather will.

Take care to ensure (regardless of the drying method used) that the herb is totally dry (containing no residual moisture) before storing as any trace of moisture in a closed contained will most likely spoil all of the herb in the container.

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