Collecting Herbs for Medicinal Use
Know the Parts of the Plants
If you decide to take advantage of the healing properties and health benefits of medicinal plants, you can grow them either in the backyard or collect them from the wild. However, it is very important to know which plants are used for herbal remedies, especially if you plan on collecting plants from the wild.
It is important to educate yourself on plant types for conservation reasons. You have to know if the plant is protected. While some plants are entirely beneficial, such as the leaves, flowers, and roots, other plants only carry health benefits in a specific part. One great example is the chokeberry, which is a popular ingredient in homemade cough syrup. Since the health benefits and healing properties are in the cherry, you would only need to collect the cherries, and you could leave the rest of the plant intact. Knowing which parts of the plants you can use prevents unneeded waste and also prevents killing the entire plant.
Avoid Accidental Poisoning
Another reason to know the parts of the plant is to prevent poisoning. While some parts of the plant are used for healing, other parts may be poisonous. One example is the rhubarb plant, which contains many health benefits by eating the stalk. However, the leaves of the plant can be poisonous.
If you are using medicinal plants, it is best to grow them in your backyard garden. Many plants growing in the wild can be confused for safe plants when, in fact, they are actually poisonous. It is best to leave the wild plants to the expert herbalists.
A final reason is to know about the substance concentrations of the plant that you are considering. While the entire plant might be used for specific health ailments and conditions, some parts of the plants might have a stronger substance concentration than other parts. An excellent example is white willow, which is an excellent pain reliever. While the leaves of the plant can be used, it takes more of these than a strip of the inner bark. Even though it might take less effort to collect the leaves, you are going to take up more room in your kitchen.
Before you go collecting leaves, stems, and roots from the wild, be sure to know what parts of the plants you are going to need. Always get the advice of a qualified herbalist so you do not confuse poisonous plants with safe ones.
Tips for Drying and Storing Medicinal Herbs
As you learn about all the health benefits and healing properties that medicinal plants and herbs have to offer, you may want to stock up your natural medicine cabinet with these. While it might seem more convenient to purchase these herbs as supplements or purchase fresh ones for immediate use, you may want to consider growing herbs in your garden and then harvesting them and drying and storing them for future use. It may sound complicated, however, it is fairly easy and there are different drying methods that you can try.
Steps for Drying Herbs
- After you pick the herbs that you want to use, check over the plant. If there are any damaged leaves, pick them off and throw them away.
- Rinse the herbs under cold water to remove dirt, pollen, dust and debris. Pat them dry with a paper towel or cloth.
- Sort the herbs by separating the leaves, flowers, stalks, seeds and roots. Since each of these has different drying times, they will need to be dried separately.
- Once you have completed the above steps, you can start drying the herbs. One method is to tie herbs into small bundles and hang them upside down in a shaded area, away from direct sunlight. Wrap them loosely in a paper bag to prevent contamination from dust or dirt.
- Within 10 days the herbs should be dried. Test a leaf by crushing it in your fingers. If it breaks easily or crumbles, the herbs are dried.
Rack Drying Method
Another method is rack drying:
- Take a screen or stretch a piece of cheesecloth over a wooden frame. Put this in a shaded area, out of direct sunlight. If you have a cabinet in your kitchen that you do not use, this will work fine.
- Place the herbs on it and turn the herbs several times a day to make sure the herbs dry. This process takes about 2 to 3 days.
- Check a leaf to see if it breaks easily or crumbles.
While you can use the oven, microwave, or food dehydrator to dry herbs in a fast amount of time, these methods are not recommended. Your herbs may dry too fast and some of the healing properties may be reduced or removed. They may not last as long in storage as herbs dried by hanging or rack drying.
Storing herbs is even easier than drying them. All you need are clear glass jars, such as mason jars with tight-fitting lids, and a dark place away from sunlight to store them. While sunlight helps these herbs grow, it robs them of their healing properties. Many stores, including health food stores, sell bottles for this type of purpose.
Depending on the type of herbs you are drying and storing, some may last up to a year and others may last longer or a shorter period of time. Therefore it is best to label each jar with the name of the herb and the date you put it in the jar. Make sure you use older herbs before using newer ones. If you see any sign of mold on a herb, throw the herb away.
- How to Dry and Store Your Fresh Garden Herbs
Air drying herbs is an easy way to preserve and store the fresh from the garden, with minimal loss of flavor and quality. Here are some simple steps.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2017 Lois Ryan