Herbs in Autumn

Yummy herbal teas! Intensely flavored herbal additions to your stews and breads, and maybe the Thanksgiving turkey! Oh yeah, sounds soooo good.

Well, the place to look is your own or a friend’s garden or the local farmer’s market. Drying and storing herbs for your use is simple and gives you a wonderful feeling when you’re using them in your teas and your cooking.

At this time of year, as summer ends and autumn starts the count-down to winter, our herb plants are starting to go into their last hurrah for the season. If they’re annuals, they are blooming and setting seed, making sure they’ll have babies before they kick off. If they’re perennials, they may just now be blooming, setting seed for a new batch of plants beyond where they already live, or they may be thinking about tucking up their roots for the winter and slowing down their growth, getting ready to shed their leaves.

So before those plants bite the dust, it’s time to harvest them and have them ready for winter use.

If you have your own garden, you can pick what you like and put it to dry. Basil is great to dry, and its flowers are edible. You can take a whole plant out by its roots, chop them and any ugly leaves off, and hang it to dry.

Perennial herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and mints can also be harvested. If they are blooming, the flowers are also edible and can be included in what you dry.

If you’ve been growing nasturtiums, not only do you want to save a few seeds for next year, but you can dry the buds, flowers, and leaves for teas and soups, or put the flowers and/or seed into vinegar.

If you don’t have access to a garden, many vendors at farmers markets are selling herbs. A big bunch of basil will make marvelous pesto, but maybe more than you need right now, so dry the rest. Any other herbs you can find, grab them and dry them.

There are, however, 2 exceptions to the drying rule. Parsley and chives lose much of their “oomph” and taste when they dry, so the best way to retain their goodness is to freeze them. Snip your parsley or chives into small pieces, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and put them in the freezer.

When they are all frozen, simply put the frozen herb pieces into a jar, plastic container, or plastic baggie, label!, and keep in the freezer. You’ll be ale to scoop out what you want when you need it.

Now you may be wondering how to dry your herbs. Over the years I have found many ways to let them air dry, here are a couple:

o Put your herbs on a plate, a wicker paper plate holder (I found mine at yard sales), or a basket. Make sure that your herbs are in fairly single layer, or spread apart. If they hunch on top of each other, they will mold or dry unattractively brown. You can leave the leaves on the stems and strip them off when they are dry, or take the leaves off first, and spread to dry.
o Hang your herbs in small bunches to dry. You can gather a few stems of herb together and tie them together with a piece of string, or use a rubber band wrapped around them a few times. You can hang your bunches from pegs, like coat hook pegs, from pegs on a peg board, from beams in the attack, or from a clothes hanger. The clothes hanger can be hung anywhere you can find, and the herb bunches can be hooked on using unbent paper clips.

When your herbs are thoroughly dry, you can strip them off the stems, if you didn’t do this previously, and store them in a glass jar (my favorite way) or in paper bags. Some people use plastic bags, which is fine, but I prefer to avoid plastic when I can. I try not to crumble them too much when storing, preferring to do the crumbling just before I use them. They retain more of their flavor and goodness that way.

Label you herbs! You may think you will remember what they are, but they can look really different dried than fresh, and one dry herb can look remarkably like another. I am speaking from long experience here!

For the herbs you will use in cooking, get some pretty bottles or small jars, attach pretty labels, and keep with your herbs and spices. You will be amazed at how good they taste in your cooking, salad dressings, and more.

Next month we’ll look at some of the other ways you can use your freshly, deliciously dried herbs.

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Stock/Broth

by Iris Weaver, Shamanic Herbalist and Educator

Do you have bouillon cubes sitting in your kitchen cupboards? Do you actually use them? When you do, are they all gooey and sticking to the foil, and looking a little icky?

You should know that there is usually a lot of salt and unfermented soy in those cubes, as well as artificial flavors and maybe even colors (sorry, I haven’t looked at them in a long while). I stopped using them several years ago, and now make my own stock or broth to use in soups and for cooking grains, beans, and so on.

Sure, it takes some work, but I love the results of what I make and have enough to last a couple weeks or more, depending on how much I’ve made and how quickly I use it up. 

This all started with Bone Broth, well-loved by many people who are eating more traditional, nutrient-dense and nutritious diets. Bone broth is made with a couple pounds of bones and whatever vegetable bits you have saved, and is very wonderful.

My version has evolved as I never seem to be able to afford a really large quantity of bones, and I always seem to have a lot plant matter around, courtesy of my herb and plant work. I also have egg shells from my farm-raised eggs and save them to include in the broth. So now my broth includes a few bones, some shells, and a goodly amount of plants. The recipe is below, along with a couple of ideas about collecting the materials for your stock/broth.

To begin with—the bones. You don’t have to include them if you’re vegetarian or vegan. But if you are omnivorous, like me, then it’s great to include some. Any bones that you have, either saved from what you’ve already cooked, or bought at the store for this purpose. If you have to accumulate them over a few days or weeks, toss them in a bag or jar in the freezer until you need them.

The eggshells. These should be from organic eggs, if possible. Farm-raised is even better. You can save your shells in a basket or pot somewhere to one side of your kitchen. Don’t worry about rinsing them, they dry just fine without any smell or rotting. Crush them up to save room.

Here’s the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink part—all the veggie, herb, and plant bits and pieces and handfuls and bagfuls that you’ve been saving for your wonderful stock!

When you are chopping, trimming, etc. vegetables, all the end parts that you’d normally throw in the trash or compost are put in a bag or jar in the freezer till later. Carrot ends, onion skins, dried out garlic bulbs, celery stubs, asparagus butts, kale stalks, etc. Too tough to eat, but not too tough to stew!

You can add herbs and healthy, ingestible plants as well. If you’re stripping herbs off of stems, save the stems. Have some extra herbs from the farmer’s market or a neighbor? Toss ‘em in.

Include your “weedings” from when you’re weeding your garden and hate to throw out all those dandelions and plantain and other “weeds” that threaten to take over. You can also wildcraft them or ask a neighbor if you can have theirs, or go to a farm or a farmers market to find some of these plants. The point is to find them and use them. They will add new levels of taste and nutrition to your stock.

Here are some suggestions: dandelions leaves and roots, burdock leaves and roots, goosefoot or lamb’s quarters leaves and stems, amaranth leaves and stems, yellow dock leaves and roots, plantain (the weedy plant, not the banana) leaves and seed stalks, evening primrose leaves and roots, nettles, wild lettuce leaves, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), the tough stalks from flowering onions, garlic, and chives.

Play around to see what you like the taste of and what you don’t. I am finding that a lot of plantain makes for a more bitter stock, and also is slightly laxative, so probably it should be kept to ¼ cup or so. Yellow dock roots can also be slightly laxative, so use just a few small pieces.

If you are unsure if a plant is safe or not, err on the side of caution. Especially if you are not really familiar with your weeds, it is better not to take chances. A good motto is: When in doubt—don’t!

You also add vinegar. The acidic vinegar will pull out calcium from the bones and eggshells and help pull out minerals from the plants as well. Combined with the fat from bones, if you use them, this will make the minerals and fat soluble vitamins very available and easily absorbed for excellent nutrition.

Use this stock for cooking rice, beans, veggies, or as the starting point for soup. You can also heat it up, add a bit of salt (and cream if you like) and have a lovely, nutritious tonic drink.

So here’s the recipe, with approximate measurements. Don’t worry if you use more or less of anything, it will work!

Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Stock/Broth

1 to 2 gallons water (filtered if possible)

1 to 2 lbs. bones (chicken, beef, marrow, etc.)

As many eggshells as you’ve got

1 to 4 or 5 cups veggie trimmings, herbs, wild plants—fresh or dried or frozen

¼ cup vinegar—apple cider, red wine, home-made, etc.

Put all your ingredients in a large pot, bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 24 to 48 hours. When it is done, or you can’t stand having that large pot on your stove anymore, you can put the stock in spaghetti or canning jars and the stock will stay good in the fridge for several weeks. Or you can freeze your stock, and pull it out as you need it. Make sure to keep the wonderful fat in your stock. Your body needs it!

 Iris Weaver sees clients and teaches classes at The Healing Center. She can be reached at info@irisweaver.com or 617-773-5809.