Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An introduction to herbal tea: harvesting, drying, and storage

Okay, so know you know something about the health benefits and flavors of herbal teas, now lets learn about proper collecting and storing of your future tea. It's a pretty easy, but there are a few things you should know to make great teas.

Now days it is easy to buy tea herbs off the internet or even in grocery stores. However, the fresher the better in most cases and the freshest will be the ones you grow yourself. The best time to harvest your herbs' leaves and flowers is mid-morning after any dew has evaporated but before the day's heat has a chance to really set in. Most of the flavor-producing compounds are produced by chemical reactions in the plant during the night. But these yummy compounds are easily evaporated out of the plant by the sun's heat so the later in the day you wait to pick them the less there will be of these tasty and beneficial chemicals. However if you pick the leaves/flowers while they still have a coating of dew there is a very good chance that they will mildew and turn to a mushy, useless mess during storage.

The time of day is less important for heavier parts of the plant such as roots, twigs, and bark. The proper time to collect these are based more on the calender than on a clock. Late winter/early spring is usually the right time to collect twigs, roots and bark from trees as this is when they are starting to be flooded with life again after the cold, dark winter. This new life is the vitality you want to tap. On the other hand, the roots of flowers, shrubs, and non-tree-type plants are usually better in the fall. The plant has spent all summer turning sunlight into healthy nutrients and stuffing them into the roots for storage over the winter. Come spring these nutrients were to be used to regrow the plant but now you'll be harvesting that regrowth for yourself.

A basic rule of thumb is the thicker the plant matter the thicker you can pile it on top of itself during drying. Leaves are best dried while still on the stems/stalks in bundles hung up in warm, dry areas out of direct sunlight. Remember, you don't want the good chemicals to evaporate away so warm with air circulation is better than hot or direct sunlight. If you have the room, store these bundles hanging somewhere dry. A layer of cheese cloth over them will keep the dust off them.

Flowers should be removed from their stems and gently shaken to get rid of any bugs (though these bugs are a source of protein). Place them on a cookie sheets one layer deep and set them in a dry, warm place. Again, avoid hot areas or direct sunlight. Air gently passing over them with prevent mildewing, molds, or fungi from growing which are BAD for tea. Once dry, place the flowers in lidded, wide-mouth jars. Traditionally porcelain or amber-colored glass jars are preferred to reduce degradation of the herbs by light.

Heavy materials such as roots, bark and twigs should be cut into strips approximately 4" long and no wider than your little finger, then loosely pile on a cookie sheet. As before, place them in a dry, warm area with moving air to dry them without losing any goodness. Twigs and uncut roots can be bundled and hung like your did earlier with the leaves. Bark and cut roots should be stored in the same manner as flowers.

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