Huntin’, Gatherin’ and Dryin’ Herbs

There she is! Cassie, the woodland sprite. She’s the plant whisperer. We are on our way to find a patch of jewelweed that she spied a few days earlier. Along the way we found a plethora/gaggle of other plants and animals of interest.

Cattails and nine lives.
The jewelweed is only a few steps away. What a lovely wetland.
That is a Climbing Rose. Plucked from its happy place by Cassie’s greedy little mits!
These are my favorite! The Wild Iris (Blue Flag) is not just a pretty face. It was frequently used by Native Americans to treat wounds and sores. It’s currently used to detoxify the body by increasing urination and bile production and is a mild laxative. In small doses it relieves nausea and vomiting and in large doses it actually causes vomiting. It’s really quite an amazing plant.
I can’t resist including this little (not little at all) beauty. I’m not sure of the species because I didn’t want to disturb it’s sun bathing time. I’m willing to bet that we are more than likely looking at a Northern Water Snake. They are fairly bad tempered so I would refrain from trying to hug one of these creatures. They are wonderful though.
So here is our collection of medicinal herbs all laid out on a few clean, dry towels. I blotted the excess water with another clean towel. To get to this point there is one important step…cleaning them.  I rinsed the herbs under the sink with cold water. For herbs that are particularly dirty or have soil-filled roots, fill a pot (or the sink) with cold water and place a colander in the pot. Soak the herbs in the colander for about 15 minutes to a half-hour. All the dirt will sink to the bottom of the pot and your herbs will be footloose and dirt free.
Here is my mix of dandelion, mullein, red clover, lemon balm and plantain. A few days later I added witch hazel leaves to the mix. Who doesn’t love witch hazel? No one.
The plant with the purple flower is one of the many overlooked plants in your backyard along with burdock, dandelion, plantain, nettle…the list could go on. What we consider weeds are actually amazing, healing plants and sadly we spend a stupid amount of time and energy mowing them over, pulling them out or spraying toxins on them. Red Clover flowers, beloved by honey bees, have been used to treat breast cancer. It’s commonly used to treat skin conditions and coughs and since it’s estrogenic it can be used to treat menopause symptoms.
This is what I was specifically looking for…the main ingredient in my poison ivy soap/lotion. This is jewelweed/touch-me-not/impatiens. I’m not drying this plant; instead I’m blending it, as fresh as possible, with olive oil so I can add it to my soap. You more than likely know jewelweed because it’s one of the most fun plants around. It grows a little banana-shaped, green seed pod that explodes when you touch it. The juice from its stems is one of the best poison ivy treatments around…if you get it on there soon enough. If you have a bad case of poison ivy and you didn’t get jewelweed juice on it fast enough, you are probably out of luck. So if you think you just wandered through a patch of PI, look for jewelweed nearby, break open the stem/stalk and rub it on the area that may have contacted the PI.
After 24 hours of having the herbs drying on the towel, I removed the towel, sorted them by species so I didn’t get confused later on, and left them to dry for another 2 weeks. Every few days, I tossed them around a bit to make sure there were no lingering damp areas that would encourage mold growth. I knew they were dry when they crumbled at the mere sight of my hand coming towards them.
While I’m deciding how to use the herbs—Should I add them directly into soap?….Should I infuse them in olive oil?….Should I create a tincture?– I store them in plastic bags. Remember to label them and squeeze as much air out of each bag as possible. If you don’t think you will use them for a while, write the date on the bag. Then store in a cool, dry place that is away from sunlight.
This is also how I dry culinary herbs such as rosemary and oregano. I hope you try this yourself. Drying herbs is so simple and easy. If I can do it, you can too!

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