Herbs & Children: Collecting and Drying Herbs for the Herbal Harvest

http://www.motherearthliving.com/In-the-Garden/herbs-children-collecting-drying-herbs-herbal-harvest.aspx

L.KuhlmanLisa is a writer, budding photographer and herb enthusiast. She enjoys poking around in the garden, creating in the kitchen and reading a good book (when she’s not answering the call of “Mom!” from her five children).  

Congratulations to the winners of the Herbal Roots Zine Giveaway! A. Donovan and Mikayla will each receive the July issue of Herbal Roots. Loridean has been selected as the lucky winner of an entire year's subscription. Enjoy!

The twins and I wandered outside the other day to survey the state of the herb garden together. It was humming with bees and naturally decorated with butterflies—delightful! After some discussion, we determined the herbs were ready for a mid-summer haircut. Each girl set to work with a pair of scissors and instructions to cut at about halfway down the plants.

8-4-11-butterfly 
Butterflies and bees are frequent visitors to herb gardens.
Photo by raymondgobis/Courtesy Flickr
 

As we cut, we put each herb in its own pile. Sometimes they would have to stop and inspect the plants before they added another handful, comparing the shape of the leaves or how the leaves were situated on the stems to be sure it was going to the right place. Every so often we took a break to have a tasting party and decide what kinds of things we might like to make with the herbs we were preparing to dry in our kitchen. 

After collecting the herbs, I assigned Claire and Olivia each several piles to divide into handfuls and secure the bunches with rubber bands. They had a little trouble at first, but after I explained it was much like putting a ponytail in their doll's hair, they caught right on and chattered though the hour just like ladies at a salon! 

Next, we added a paper clip hook to each bunch, opening the paper clip so it looks like an elongated “S” and hooking one end under the rubber band. Again, this took a couple of demonstrations, but they caught on and we had a nice collection of hangers in no time. 

8-4-11-paper-clip 
An opened paper clip attached to a rubberband is an easy way to hang herbs. 
Photo by Lisa Kuhlman 

My girls love to do crafts, so making labels from slips of paper for each bunch was turned into an artistic endeavor. They wrote out the labels (with a little spelling help from me) and then after taking a close look at the plants, proceeded to add tiny sketches that represented the herb. Since we weren't in a hurry, I let them embellish as much as they wished. Then we slipped the papers under one section of the rubber band on each bunch. 

8-4-11-kidHere is a list of the herbs we gathered this time:

• Lemon balm
• Lavender
• Oregano
• Dill
• Thyme
• Bee balm
• Comfrey
• Plantain
• Spearmint
• Chocolate mint
• Chamomile
• Catnip
• Rosemary
• Sage                                                                                                                                  

Make labels for each herb bunch. Photo by Lisa Kuhlman 

As you can see, this is a fairly diverse list. As we gathered each herb, it was an opportunity to talk about which parts we use, how they are used (cooking, tea, medicinally, etc.) and whether or not the plants will grow back (perennial, annual, biennial, etc.) I explained there were a few herbs, like basil, cilantro and parsely, that we didn't cut for drying this time because I prefer to use them fresh or frozen. We'll wait until later in the summer to dry or freeze them. 

Soon our bunches were ready to hang in the kitchen. In our kitchen, on a wall out of direct sunlight, I have strung a length of beading wire between two nails. We simply hang the bunches on the wire by the paperclip hooks and in a few weeks, they are ready to bring down and put into glass jars. Our kitchen always smells divine! (This line can double as an art gallery, too!)

When it was time to store our harvest, we took down all of one kind of herb at a time, rubbing the leaves off the stem and onto a large piece of paper. Then we picked up edges of the paper and slid the herbs right into a glass jar with a lid. Always be sure to add a label to the jar as soon as you are done with each herb. I can almost always tell the difference between the dried herbs by taste or scent, but plants like plantain and comfrey are very similar to each other in their dried form! Besides, having the kids create a label for even the most distinct herbs (like rosemary or lavender) is good reinforcement for learning about them.

As we worked, we dreamed about making our own herbal tea blends or perfume with floral waters (hydrosols) with the fresh herbs still growing in the garden. We wondered if the fairies that live in the fairy house tucked away to the side of the herb garden would like to collect and dry herbs as well.

It was agreed that they would. Collecting and drying herbs is great fun!