Herbs and medicinals to grow
My top 12 herbs and medicinals to grow and/or preserve and why:
a Note about cutting herbs
This being my first time growing and cutting herbs, I was a little intimidated to just jump in there and cut them. Turns out, it's pretty much that simple. Let this be an encouragement to you! You're not going to mess this up. And if somehow you do, there's always next growing season to try it again! Cut flowers at the closest leaf to the head, and cut herbs before they flower, while they're still tender.
My favorite method of preserving herbs and flowers is dehydrating/drying them! It's so, SO easy, rewarding, and useful. I have a dehydrator that I got for Christmas like 10 years ago that I've been using, but you can also lay herbs/flowers in a single layer on a sheet pan at your ovens lowest temperature and dry them out that way. Or you can bundle and tie them upside down, and hang dry them. If you're looking for a dehydrator, this is the one I've heard is fantastic and would look into if I didn't already have one.
Some herbs are good to freeze in water or olive oil to use in your cooking throughout the year. While I prefer to dry them, cilantro, mint, and parsley can all be frozen in ice cube trays with a bit of water. This article is helpful if you are looking to freeze herbs.
ideas for citrus
I can't grow my own citrus fruits in my climate, but I came into a big bunch of oranges this summer. We couldn't eat them all! So we decided to CAN them! I didn't even know you could can oranges until this year. (Info on canning oranges here) We were left with a ton of orange peels and I just knew there had to be a use for them. I cut them up into strips and froze a quart baggie full to make candied orange peel closer to Christmas time. I still had a ton of peels left, so I decided to dry them in the dehydrator to use in bath products, to grind into a powder to add to hot tea, marinades, and more. You can also do this with all kinds of citrus, and I'm looking forward to dehydrating lemons and limes next.
Cilantro is a must have herb here at our house. It belongs in salsa, rice, tacos, black beans, and pretty much any Mexican dish we make. I love using fresh cilantro, and almost never remember to dry or freeze some in water cubes before it flowers and goes to seed. Thank goodness though, the seeds from cilantro, also known as coriander, taste exactly the same as the cilantro leaf! When harvesting our coriander, I will save some seed to plant again next year, but I will also save some seed to use in our cooking. You can also powder those seeds (after they're dried, either outside on the plant, or in the dehydrator or oven) to make coriander powder, which can then be added to all those same dishes! Cilantro grows so easily here, and usually re-seeds itself, so that I don't even have to plant again, it just pops up on its own.
Mint is an invasive, aggressive grower. That's exactly why we planted it, so it can grow and take over and we won't have to worry about mowing up next to the house. We also have spearmint growing up around the flower bed because at least it's not a weed, right? We have more mint than we could ever find something to do with, but I will save and dehydrate a bit of it to use in DIY products, such as an envigorating foot scrub, and leg energizer. Bundle and hang upside down until dry and crunchy. I don't usually put mint in the dehydrator because there is so much it won't fit!
This has been my favorite medicinal plant to grow this year, and I have big plans for using the flowers! Calendula oil, salve, and tea are on the list for sure. If you've never grown this pretty flower, it's also known as "pot marigold" and has the prettiest, sunny, little blooms. Even if you're just looking for something decorative this would be a great choice.
I had big plans for echinacea this year. I started seeds indoors in early spring, but unfortunately those seedlings didn't do well. I actually ended up buying full grown plants and will harvest the flowers to make tea with this year. You can also harvest some of the roots when the plants mature a bit. The best news about echinacea is that it's a perennial and will come back on it's own next year (fingers crossed!).
If you eat Mexican or Italian food, oregano is a must have herb in the kitchen. It's also a potent medicinal that can be used in tinctures, salves, and teas. I use oregano essential oil all the time, and have decided that it's something I definitely want to have growing in my garden each year.
Thyme is both culinary and medicinal, and a fantastic plant to grow and harvest. We have had better luck starting from a plant rather than seed, but it's such a great plant, and harvesting thyme produces results that are *just like* or better than the thyme you pick up at the grocery store. Thyme is a must have herb in our kitchen, and learning about its uses on the medicinal side of things has solidified it as a keeper in the garden.
Yuck. I hate rosemary on chicken! Blergh. But I can recognize the benefits of something even if I don't like the way it tastes. I do dry a bit for keeping in the kitchen, but having it grown in the garden is more of a health and wellness insurance plan for my family than anything else at the moment.
garlic & Onion
I am mildly obsessed with dehydrating things. Especially when it's something we already buy or use! We use so much garlic and onion in our cooking that it only makes sense to grow a portion of it ourselves. There are also some amazing things you can do to preserve these two, including dehydrated carmelized onions, and homemade garlic powder. These are going in the fall garden with hope for a big harvest next year.
To grind herbs and medicinals to a fine powder you may choose to use one of several different tools
Mortar and Pestle
You may want to get some adorable baker's twine to tie herbs up if you are hanging them to dry, but one reason I love dehydration as a preservation method is how easy and accessible to everyone it is!
I hope that the idea of growing and preserving your own herbs and flowers seems more accessible to you, and you consider it! Even if you don't want to grow your own, preserving some orange peel from the grocery store, or some flowers from the local nursery goes a long way in starting your own stockpile of herbal remedies and helps us be a bit more self-sufficient.
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