Thursday, August 1, 2013

Herbal Tea - Harvesting and Drying

I will finally write that promised blog post about my herbal teas. It will actually be two blog posts I think. This first part will focus on harvesting and drying while the next part will focus on the actual herbs and teas as well as storage.

I have no actual pictures of the harvesting, but you can all imagine me walking around with my basket collecting this and that, whatever is not poisonous according to my books. Always consult literature if you are unsure! Flowers are seldom poisonous but it's always safest to check. If a herb is pronounced non-poisonous in the books but you don't know if it makes good tea then just try it! In my next post I will show you some of the herbs that I harvest, but what herbs are available depends very much on your location in the world. I mostly wild harvest, but if you feel uncomfortable or unsure about that and you have a herb garden you can of course use those herbs for tea as well! Some of the common culinary herbs make really spendid herbal tea as well.

There are a few general rules regarding harvesting: 

  • First, leaves should be hervested before a plant flowers, so generally harvesting time is spring and early summer. Flowers can of course be harvested whenever. 
  • Second, choose a cloudy or not too warm day to harvest. You want the plants to be healthy and not dried up and wilting. If you live in a hot climate you should harvest in early morning. 
  • Third, you should always harvest only healthy leafs and flowers. Choose quality over quantity, it might take more time when you are choosy, but the result will look better and taste better. Choose the freshest and greenest leaves and the best looking flowers.
  • Fourth, don't gather herbs near roads or on/near land where weed-killers or pesticides have been used.
I usually gather only the parts of the herb that I intend to use for tea, for example I gather the leaves or the flowers but not the whole plant. If you inted to dry your herbs by hanging them up rather than flat drying it may be necessary to harvest the whole plant. You'll see what I mean as I move on to the next part of this post, the drying process!

This part of my herbal tea making has been extensively documented. I have a huge number of photos of it but I'll spare you and only show you a selection! 







In the pictures you can see the different methods of drying that I mentioned. With one herb, that has ridiculously small leaves, I have chosen to dry the whole plant in a hanging position. The rest I dry flat on whatever plate or chopping board that I could find. There is even a woven bowl. I'd prefer using such woven containers for drying, because of the air flow they allow, but as it is I have used any plane wooden tray that I could find. You can use any ordinary plate or tray too, it doesn't have to be made of wood. As you can see in one picture, I used a china plate too and I noticed no difference in quality. I would stay away from plastic though... or maybe I'm just paranoid. 

In my experience flat drying means that the plant dries faster, while bundling takes more time. I noticed no difference in flavor retention, but of course I didn't try the two different methods with the same plant. Flat drying takes up a lot of space but the faster drying times means that you can harvest in smaller doses but more often. I harvested about once a week and by that time most of the previous harvest was ready for storage.

You can also find pictures of various herb drying racks as well as DIY tutorials online. I haven't ever used one but if you plan on drying a lot of herbs and have limited space available, a drying rack might be useful!

There are a some rules about drying too:

  • First, choose a dry, dark (out of direct sunlight) and not too cold/drafty spot to dry your herbs in.
  • Second, shake the freshly picked herbs to get rid of insects befor laying them out to dry. Don't wash the herbs before drying, if they are picked in clean locations washing is not necessary. Wet plants mold easily.
  • Third, if the plants are wet when you bring them in, give them extra "breathing room", don't place them too close to each other. Otherwise use your common sense and/or experience when it comes to how much space a plant needs. As long as there is no mold, it's fine! If your climate is humid you may need to keep a close eye on your herbs and flip them over now and then to prevent mold.
  • Fourth, drying time depends on the plant, let the leaves/flowers dry until they can be crumbled between your fingers.
I think that's all for now. I have probably forgotten some details, but that's the gist of it! Any questions so far?

11 comments:

  1. Oh! This is amazing! Absolutely amazing. When you mentioned doing an herbal tea post, I thought it would just be a post about the different types of herbal teas and your experiences drinking different brands. Not you actually making the teas! This is so much better. And, naturally, I have a lot of questions.

    First, what is your history with tea making? When did you start? Where do you harvest from?

    Second, what books do you recommend for foraging for possible plants?

    Third, can you post a photoalbum somewhere else of all the pictures you took? I realize why you don't want to devote an entire post to just pictures, but I would love to see everything else.

    I can't wait to read the rest of your post!

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    1. Thank you Lynette! I have been harvesting herbs for tea for a few years but only this summer have I done so on a larger scale. Previous summers I have concentrated on a few herbs but this summer I had the time to go beyond that and do some serious reading and experimenting. I've always loved using what nature provides! The freedom to roam that we talked about on your blog grants me the right to harvest whatever I can find in the forests around my home and I definitely do so! The nature around my home is diverse and most of the edible plants that grow up here in the north can be found within a comparatively small area.

      The books I use are all in swedish by swedish authors so I can unfortunately not recommend any books for you. These kinds of books are generally only locally useful. A book in english wouldn't contain all the plants that grow here in Finland...

      I don't really have an online venue where I can post a full herbal tea photoalbum. And unfortunately most of the pictures are such that they would need to pass through a photo editing program, that I don't have yet, beforehand (dark corners may be good for drying herbs but not for photographing).

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    2. I've dried and made mint tea before and dried sage, but that is the extent of my herb drying skills at the present. What have you learned thus far? And what sort of experiments have you tried?

      Alas, you are probably right about the books. It's been so long since I've picked up a field guide to regional varieties (and it's been so long since I've actually lived in a place that I could look for them) that I forgot there must be a startling difference between our two continents.

      And a shame about the lack of pictures. Still, the ones you have posted are beautiful. I look forward to seeing the ones in the next post!

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    3. Mint tea is soo good! So far this summer I have concentrated on wild harvesting, but we do have a lot of herbs in our greenhouse too, mint and peppermint among them... I'll have to harvest some!

      I have experimented with various plants, trying to find ut what tastes good as tea. Most of the books I have read focus more on medicinal properties and not so much on if a herb tastes good... So I have had to experiment a fair bit. I have also experimented with blends, what tastes good together. Then of course, the practical aspects, how to harvest, how to dry, how to store, have all been a process of trial and error.

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    4. Haha. Yes. Medicinal teas are often terrible tasting! But it is those bitter, acrid or sour tastes that give their medicinal properties in many cases.

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  2. Åh vilket bra inlägg :) Jag sitter och tittar på bilderna jag och försöker se vad du har plockat. Jag brukar alltid göra te på hallon o vinbärsblad färskt, men i år så har jag plockat för att torka. Jag provar torka lite svarta vinbär också.
    När jag plockade hjortron så passade jag på att plocka lite skvattram också :)

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    1. I nästa del blir det mer om de enskilda växterna jag har använt så då får du nog din nyfikenhet tillfredsställd. Ska bara ta lite bilder av slutresultatet, de färdigtorkade örterna i sina burkar först, men sen ska jag skriva nästa del!

      Har du prövat att dricka te på skvattram ännu? Det blir bäst färskt för skvattram förlorar sin smak när man torkar den. Jag har frusit in min skvattram i år istället för att torka.

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  3. This is so informative and wonderful. I so wish I lived in a better climate and could do stuff like this. It must be so rewarding and ease your mind knowing exactly where the flowers came from. Dee posted an article on twitter about Celestial Seasonings containing more pesticide than is FDA approved :( I seriously wish I could live in the country and grow all my own fruits, veggies, herbs, and flowers for tea.

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    1. What's the world coming to when "100% natural teas" contain too much pesticides to be safe... I'm suddenly glad that CS is hard to come by here! And glad that I haven't heard anything similar about Pukka or Yogi Tea! Our garden and the forests around our home are pesticide and weed-killer free at least. The attitude towards pesticides is quite negative here in Finland. Public pressure generally makes sure that growers and companies stay in line, thankfully! Organically grown, sustainable and local food is also on the rise!

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  4. This was very interesting to read :)

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