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?