Making Use of what you have
Harvesting, drying and using your own herbs is one of the best homesteading skills I think any one can learn and use in their daily lives. There is nothing better for our family that using them to treat minor ailments year round. Salves, teas and tinctures are about the easiest and most effective in my opinion.
Choosing your herbs:
Wild harvesting and growing your own is about the best option for being self sufficient I can think of. However some planning is needed. Herbs are not in growing season year round and some of them you use only a particular part, for example the spring leaves of Bergamont or the flowers of the Red Clover. Some can only be harvested in a limited time window and could be dangerous other times of the year.
The solution is to harvest them while in season and store them until needed. You first need to know the herb you will be using. Know how to identify it, know how to use it safely, and know when and how to harvest it.
So what about herbs that are not available in your area either to grow or wild harvest. Personally I think local herbs are far better than imported or non-regional ones. I think the local fauna and soil conditions will aid you more effectively that something that is not regional to you. But that is just my opinion and I know that over time the local peoples have discovered the local herbs to use for just about any aliment. Take advantage of what you have.
If that doesn’t suite you then order from a reputable retail source. My problem with this is that often the companies that sell herbs are looking to make sales and the more volume the more profit for them. They fail to take into consideration the possibility of over harvesting and destroying natural habitats or harvesting in the wrong season leaving the herb ineffective and in some cases dangerous to use. Now I am not saying all companies do this but many will. You need to know the company and their polices.
Preserving & storing your harvest:
One of the best ways is to dry the herb and store it in an air tight container, in a dark cool place until you are ready to use it. I love to use canning jars, my favorites are the old blue glass bail top Ball jars. I cut a piece of brown paper the size to fit into the jar so it wraps around the inside of the jar all the way up the flat side of the jar and all the way around. This helps block the light a bit more and gives me a place to write the important information such as the name of the herb, the date it was harvested and any special notes I might want to remember such as a new found site where the herb grows well.
I like to pick/dig my herbs in the morning after the dew has dried and hang in a warm dry place until completely dry. Here it’s in the tack room of our barn. I have a pull out clothes line I use for this.
Managing your herbal resources:
Since our property isn’t all that large only around 3 acres or so, over the past several years through observation and planning we now have areas that the wild herbs grow. I know that around the back side of the house where no one seems to go is a good size patch of Red Clover that grows and blossoms. Until it does bloom I don’t mow that area. Later in the season the Goldenrod will flower. Once it’s done and had a chance to go to seed I will mow it and leave the clipping right there.
It’s not the picture perfect mown lawn so many think they should have. Instead it’s alive with flowering plants, bees and an occasional snake or two. It suites us well but come fall it will be mown down for another year. I have been asked several times why I don’t dig this all up and put a “nice patio” in that section of the house. Ah’ I say it is a nice patio area just off to the side, see my chairs… and I get the benefit of getting to look over the wild flowers too….
Up in the bar way to the small field that grass has white clover that grows. Again this area is uncut until later in the season so I can harvest them to feed out the the animals over the winter.
I also like to feed this fresh to the chickens and horses over the summer. A few handfuls a day are tossed to the chickens and I walk the horses here on a lead line each day for an hour or so. I love the time with them-they walk along chewing and I have the time to give them a good brushing and good look over for any problems I might overlook. For me it’s a good relaxing time with not much thinking going on but just enjoy the moment listening to them chew away and an occasional snort and tail flip.
Down in the back field grow the Oxeye Daisies, goldenrod, Echinacea, violets and a few others. New this year I have noticed the Mullen seeds I tossed down there a couple of years ago are starting to grow. This one is in it’s second year of growth. The first year they are a short clump of leaves and the second year they grow tall and will flower. Very exciting!
Using your herbs:
Here at the farm many are made into simple teas to treat minor ailments. Bergamont, Catnip, Red Clover, Mints, Sage, Rosemary, Dill, Thyme, Calendula are a few off the top of my head. All come from the gardens here or from our property.
Some are made into salves for our own use and for sale in our Farm Store. Making salve is easy and the basic steps are to infuse the dried herbs in a carrier oil. Let the oil and herbs infuse in the sun for several weeks then strain and add any additional essential oils and a bit of beeswax. Pour into clean sterile containers, label and enjoy.
Hope you are enjoying your resources and maybe start to think about ways to expand the ones you do have available to you.