Yarrow

Yarrow is somehow not an herb we have used a whole lot of as a medicinal.  We use it all over the garden for a plethora of reasons - mostly that it draws in beneficial insects, is considered a dynamic accumulator, and it is a great plant for companion planting.  It also survives our summer humidity and heat unbelievably well.

During the winter of last year we did a lot of work in the garden to make it work for us.  We made more paths, created more beds, got our beds on contour, and divided the most beneficial plants in our garden.  As we did this I made a vow to myself to get to know what was coming out of our garden better and to try to use as much of it as I can this year.

In getting to know Yarrow as a plant - beyond one of my husbands favorite plants - I discovered it is used for colds, flus, and fevers, and cuts and abrasions.  I did use it in a salve I made with plantain and I have been quite impressed with how it has added to the healing nature of the salve.

The same day I made the salve I also tinctured Yarrow by washing the plants thoroughly and pulling off any less than perfect leaves or flowers and stuffing them in a mason jar.  I then covered the herbs with vodka and let it sit in a dark place for 6 full weeks turning regularly.  (I turn my jars just in case any of the herb isn't fully covered in alcohol I feel like it maximizes the pulling of the herbs)

We're now facing our first cold of the season as the kids have returned to school and thankfully, the yarrow is ready to go!

I think we will see how it works this time around and then I will likely bring some in to dry to add to my elderberry syrup I will begin making soon.

after tincturing for 6 weeks the yarrow leaves are strained through cheese cloth through a funnel into a fresh sterilized mason jar.

 

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Drying herbs

A few weeks ago I brought in some herbs for drying.  I am always watching the herbs in the garden trying to catch the leaves at their peak time to bring them in for use in the winter.  There are few things more satisfying to me when I am in my kitchen than walking over to the herb shelf to retrieve oregano or basil I watched grow in our garden.

I like to cut my herbs first thing in the morning - and after a good rain the night before when possible.  Actually, I try to make a point of getting outside to pick herbs and vegetables on most mornings after rain.  I find that the plants look and feel healthier and alive - and when every drop of water they absorb is being pulled into the air during the summer they get tired and are less potent.  I try my best to cut stems just before they flower to help ensure I'm getting the maximum medicine or flavor out of them I can.  (I am human and I have a life so this is my disclaimer - I try my best to pick our herbs at the most opportune times - especially if I am going to dry them, but I don't always because life is not that seamless.  What I do is try - this is my ideal.)

When I cut herbs I seldom take the whole plant.  I try to take the oldest growth leaving new growth to keep growing and I continue to harvest this way for most of the summer.  With Lemon Balm this is super helpful since it grows everywhere easily.  By keeping it cut and drying or tincturing or in vases I keep it pretty well under control and it stays beautiful in the garden longer.  (Lemon Balm is one of my favorite herbs)

After I get my herbs cut I bring them inside and rinse them in COLD water and place them on  towel to drain off excess water.  Washing the herbs lets me get any insects off of them and ensures I'm only drying the best leaves for later.

Once they've drained a little I tie the herbs into small bundles.  I usually only put 7-10 stems in a bundle.  I find that the bigger bundles take longer to dry and they can get a little moldy in the middle of the bundle if I am not careful.  I also try to make sure the stems are all about the same length.  I put short stems with other short stems and long stems with long stems (when possible).  

We have a long dark hallway with a high ceiling and I hang my herbs on a piece of jute we've got tacked to the wall.  There's a lot of air movement in the hall and very little light.  After a couple of weeks of hanging I like to turn the bundles so the leaves that were closest to the wall get exposed to more air.  This also helps to ensure even drying.  It takes anywhere from three to six weeks for the bundles to dry.  I know they are dry when the leaves break off easily and they crumble in my hands.  

I take the bundles to the kitchen and remove the leaves from the stem straight into my food processor.  I grind them up and in the winter I have herbal teas, cooking herbs, and healing herbs. 

 

I store my herbs in clean glass jars in a dark cool place.

harvest to healing

Busy morning in the kitchen teaching a friend how to make tinctures, salves, and herbal vinegars.  We made Yarrow Tincture (for colds and coughs in the winter), Lemon Balm (for upset tummys and anxiety), Purple Basil Vinegar, and healing salve.

Healing Salve:

Cover herbs in oil (I never measure - I use what I have and cover it making sure to cut up any fresh herbs.  This salve has yarrow, plantain, calendula, lavender, and comfrey covered and rendered for 2 hours) 

Render herbs in oil on very low heat for at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally and ensure all the herbs stay under the oil while it draws. (I like to allow mine to steep for 4-6 hours if possible ensuring the oil does not burn)

Allow the oil to cool and strain through a cheese cloth - measure the amount of oil you made - I strain my oil directly into a measuring cup

While oil cools bring a double broiler of water to a low boil. (I did not know what a double boiler was the first time I heard the term - it is two pots stacked.  The bottom pot has water in it that comes to a boil and the inner pot is used for cooking).

Add the oil to the inner pan (you want to make sure there is no water bubbling or splashing into the inner pan.)

Once the water is boiling add the oil and begin heating it back up.  Also add 4 tbsp of beesbax beads for every 1 cup of oil.

Allow the beeswax to melt and mix with the oil stirring constantly.

Pour into airtight containers.  (You can add oils when you pour it if you wish - be sure to use oil that are safe for skin contact)

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