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 Homegrown herbs have better quality, but lots of work


Anna May Kinney


          About thirty years ago, I tied together bunches of sweet basil, tarragon and thyme and hung them from the ceiling on the upper floor of my house. I had read how to do this in a book; of course this must be the way to dry herbs.

While it was warmer on the second floor, it was also more humid, and my pathetic little clusters of herbs took forever to dry and by the time they dried they were covered with dust, the leaves looked bleached and who knew what else had deposited on them. Needless to say those herbs wound up in the garbage can.

          This is when I realized that not all methods work for everyone. Where you live makes a big difference in how quickly things dry out and how effective any one system is. This explains why at this time of the year, I get so many questions related to the trouble people run into when trying to dry herbs.

          Whether your herbs are for cooking, or to make healing teas, there are a few basic things to remember.

          1. When you take too long to dry your herbs, they lose most of their essential oils (the element they heal with) and turn out flat and tasteless.

          2   Herbs need to be dried in a closed container, such as an oven, commercial food dryer or your car to avoid insect or rodent contamination.

          3.  Too much heat is as damaging as too little, you must constantly monitor conditions.

          4.    As soon as your herb is dry, crush it fine, and set it in the oven at about 90 degrees for about half an hour to guarantee it is thoroughly dried.

          5.   Don’t let it sit around after it comes out of the oven the last time. As soon as it’s at room temperature, bag or jar it. If left at room temperature longer it can absorb the moisture that’s in the air. Don’t bag too quickly; hot herbs will sweat, causing moisture to form in your sealed container, resulting in mold and rot.

          I just finished drying 2 pound of ground St. John’s Wart, this much of one herb is a major challenge. First, it was all ready at the same time, you couldn’t just pick half of it and allow the rest to over ripen; you would lose valuable healing qualities.

Making sure there were a couple of sunny days forecasted, I covered the car seats and platform with something clean and spread armloads of this plant on it. Opening the left front window and the right rear window a couple of inches for cross ventilation, and going back every few hours to turn the herbs until they were dried, guaranteed they dried quickly in spite of their number.

You maybe wondering, why anyone would go through the work to dry their own healing herbs when you can go to any pharmacy and buy them in pill form?

 When you grow your own herbs you can be sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides or irradiated on the way across the boarder. You can selectively harvest only the plants that are at their peak, instead of depending on herbs that have been chopped down one field at a time, both plants that were ready, those that had gone past their prime and those still immature.

Another plus to growing your own herbs is the ability to harvest only the top 5 to 8 inches of each plant, this is where the essential oils exist, most everything else only adds a lot of bulk. Regular, commercial St. John’s Wart can be purchased for about $45 to $50 a pound, but organic at the quality I wind up with would cost over $100 a pound. There’s a good reason to grow them for yourself.


Environmental update

          A Cornell study published in the journal BioScience, states that after an analysis of climate changes, the increases in emerging diseases, pollution and population trends, life on earth is not only becoming more dangerous, it’s actually killing us.

          The Cornell study predicts that with the increased heat caused by global warming, life will become harder for humans and better for all human diseases. In the future we will witness a flood of “environmental refugees”, who will have to leave their homes and travel, searching for food and water.

          When ten percent of the 80,000 pesticides and other chemical in use today are recognized carcinogens, it’s no surprise that an estimated 30,000 deaths are attributed to chemical exposure. Cancer-related deaths in the United States have increased from a 1970 high of 331,000 to 521,000 in 1992.

          Already, an estimated 40 percent of deaths around the world can be attributed to a variety of environmental causes, especially chemical and organic pollutants. Today’s pesticides are more than ten times as toxic to living organisms than the ones used in the 1950’s. In 1945 the global use of agricultural pesticides were only 50 million kilograms per year, now we us about 2.5 ‘billion’ kilograms a year.

          Worldwide, every year, air pollution affects the health of about 5 million people. As the population expands even further, we burn more fossil fuels, drive more automobiles (right now the number of automobiles is increasing three times faster than the rate of population growth) and emit more industrial chemical pollutants into our atmosphere. As more third world countries begin climbing the economic ladder more people are able to afford luxury items.

          In China, men do most of the tobacco smoking, each smoker averages 1,800 cigarettes a year, but lung cancer is just about equal in males and females. Out of 500 Chinese cities, less than one percent have clean air, making respiratory disease the number one cause of death.

          As more and more people find themselves living in overcrowded urban ecosystems, we will witness the resurgence of many old diseases and the development of new ones.

          Diseases such a dengue fever, spread when mosquitoes breed in any kind of junk that holds water, like old tires, most overpopulated urban settings are ideal breeding grounds, right now dengue fever infects between 30 and 60 million people a year.

          In conclusion the researchers write, “ that the only chance for relief is a comprehensive, fair population-control policy combined with effective environmental management programs. Without international cooperative efforts, disease prevalence will continue its rapid rise throughout the world and will diminish the quality of life for all humans.