From Healing with Herbs: PART 5
PICKING AND STORING FRESH HERBS
Herbalists have their own preferences for just when and how to collect each herb. a common suggestion is to gather herbs on a sunny morning, just after the dew has evaporated, but before the sun begins to bake them. Wet plants can mold or mildew. Fresh herbs are best for flavoring foods, but dried ones serve quite well for most medicines. In fact, careful drying concentrates some of the active components.
To dry medicinal herbs hang them upside down in an airy open room or other shady place. Direct sun bleaches and bakes out the volatile oils. The ideal temperature range is 90° to 100° degrees F. If the temperature is not right or if there is not a steady air circulation the herbs may mildew, fade or spoil.
Roots and heavy, succulent stems contain too much moisture for this sort of hang drying. Clean these parts and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Dry them in a food dehydrator or indoors on a propped screen, near but not directly on a heat source.
Leaves and stems are sufficiently dry when they crackle between your fingers. Flowers should be light weight yet still holding their shape. Roots are ready for storage when they snap or chip easily. All parts should smell and look pretty much like they did when first picked; the color only slightly muted and the smell as strong or stronger.
I recommend boiling the dried herbs without any further processing. Grinding or powdering them seems more efficient, but it tends to release the herbs oils and to make them weaker medicines in the long run. For example, the whole cloves stored in a small brown paper bag on my kitchen shelf have a lot more medicinal (and flavor) punch then the ground cloves purchased from the grocery store.
Store dried herbs in opaque glass, wood, paper, hard plastic, or other non-metallic containers that are approved for food storage. Keep them in a cool, dark place.
When you are ready to use your herbs, rub the leaves between your hands. Use a medium pressure in order to activate the oils. For a finer powder or to process roots and stems, use a mortar and pestle.
Author Dr Cathleen V. Carr, JD, PhD is the Editor in Chief of The Best Natural Health Directory and Natural Medicine Ink