Hi Friday Foragers! This week on the blog we'll be discussing how we can preserve the goodies that we forage. From drying herbs for teas to infusing oils, there are a lot of different ways to preserve the plants that we pick for nutrition or medicine. An easy way to preserve a herb is to dry it. I dry things to use as teas, to infuse in oil, to add to dusting powders, to make scented sachets and for herbal smoke mixes. There are so many plants that grow all around us that make delicious and therapeutic teas. For example, when I have menstrual cramps I drink Red Raspberry Leaf tea. I used to buy this from the health food store, but when I began foraging, I learned when and how to collect it myself. One of my favourite teas is a mineral-rich blend with Stinging Nettle, Red Raspberry Leaf, Horsetail, Oat straw, Peppermint, Alfalfa and Red Clover.
To dry plants you can use a dehydrator, setting it on the lowest heat to gently dry the herb while keeping its medicine intact. You can spread the herbs out on a flat, clean surface and let them gently dry out. An old fly screen works really well for this, suspended off the ground. This lets the most air flow get at the plant. To test to see if your herb is dry, place it in a glass jar or large, sealable plastic bag and close it. If condensation appears over the next 24 hours, take it out and keep drying. Once thoroughly dry, label the container and store in a cool, dry place away from light. Most plants will keep for at least 1 year when properly dried and stored.
You can also infuse your herb into an oil. Infusing oils with therapeutic properties of plants is a wonderful way to use a foraged herb. One of my favourite infusions is Calendula flowers, a very therapeutic plant for the skin. This oil becomes the base for my Healing Salve. An easy infusion method is a basic 'Sun Infusion'. Generally, you'll want to dry the plant first since reducing the moisture content will concentrate the medicinal properties and prevent it from getting mouldy. Once dried, place in a glass jar, loosely packed until the jar is almost full. Cover with oil (I like olive or sunflower) and close with a lid. This can be placed in a sunny windowsill or in a warm spot, like above the fridge. Stir everyday to prevent the pieces that are floating on the top and exposed to air, from getting mouldy. After a few weeks, strain out the plant material and and you'll be left with an infused oil. This is also a great way to infuse cooking oils. Think Rosemary infused olive oil. Or Cayenne. Or Pine! This makes for fun in the kitchen and great gifts.
Another preservation method is to make a tincture. This is done by infusing the fresh or dried materials into alcohol or glycerine. We make a Stinging Nettle tincture every year to help us during allergy season. To make an alcohol infusion, place the herb material, loosely packed almost to the top of your glass jar if it is fresh or fill to 1/3 if it is dried, then cover in alcohol. We use 40 proof vodka. Shake it every day for at least a month, then strain and store in a dark container. Alcohol tinctures if left unopened, properly stored, can last for up to 20 years.
These are some of the preservation methods I use most often. I hope you give some of them a try! I found making teas and infusing oils were the easiest way for me to get started. Have fun experimenting, and as always, if you have any questions, please get in touch. Next week on the blog, the last of our Foraging Friday posts, I'll show you how foraged goodies have made their way into my daily life. Thanks for reading!