Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tummy healers

   One of my favorite things about the house I live in is that the back yard gets perfect sunlight to grow herbs. I am currently growing a small herb garden, because we are renting the place, but when I finally own a house my yard will be full of the Goddess' wonderful gifts!  Right now, I have basil, chives, rosemary, echinacea, lemon verbena, lemon balm and mint. I also have some cilantro, but I grow that indoors, because it will not stand this humid North Carolina heat. Though I use all of my herbs for cooking, the ones that I find myself using the most are my mint and lemon verbena. Lemon balm is a part of the mint family so it is included when I say mint.
   The first thing you need to know about me is that I LOVE tea! I'm a southerner, so sweet tea (that is, a ridiculous amount of sugar with a little tea flavor) is ultimately my favorite! However, I do love a good pot of herbal tea. If the herbs come from my own garden, grown with love and gathered by my hands, which give thanks to our Goddess, then that is even better! Mint and lemon verbena make some of the best herbal tea to use when you are having ANY stomach issues or if you have a cold and/or fever. It is safe to use even for infants. When my three year old daughter gets sick, the first thing she asks for is some tea from mommy's garden. She had a cold a couple of weeks ago and was running a temperature of 102º F. Before I gave her any over the counter medicines I decided to give her some tea. Her fever broke within an hour! It also soothed her throat from all the coughing she did. I like to drink some mint tea before and after spicy meals so I don't have as much heartburn. Some people I know drink a cup of mint tea about thirty minutes before they eat, because it curbs your appetite and you lose weight. I like to use the herbs fresh, but some people like to dry them out to keep on hand. I will instruct you on how to do both.
   For fresh mint and lemon balm: Harvest your herbs by cutting the upper third of the plant. Go down to where two leaves are growing on the stem and cut just above the leaves. That's where new growth will start. Don't cut more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.
   For fresh lemon verbena: Harvest small stems from the lower branches of the lemon verbena plant when the plant reaches 2 feet high. Cut a stem with three or more sets of leaves at the base, where the stem joins the main branch. Use sharp garden pruners and only take two to three stems from each branch. Snip longer stems from the lemon verbena plant as it matures. Collect up to four or five stems from each branch when the plant has reached a height of 3 feet or more. Stems may be harvested every other week to keep the plant healthy and productive.
   Now that you have gathered your herbs, take them inside and soak them for a few minutes in cold water. Drain your water and repeat the process until you no longer see dirt in the water. Separate the leaves from the stem. I usually use a tea ball for one cup of tea and a tea pot with a strainer for larger amounts. Take your leaves and crush them between your fingers before putting them into the strainer or tea ball. That releases the oils from the leaves to make a stronger tasting tea. You will need the leaves from 10 lemon balm sprigs, the leaves from 5 mint sprigs, and the leaves from 5 lemon verbena sprigs. Add them into about 4 or 5 cups of boiling water. Let the leaves steep in the boiling water for about 10 minutes. It will get stronger the longer you leave them in, but be careful not to over boil, because lemon balm gets bitter if over boiled. Add some honey or sugar and voila! You can also pour it into a pitcher with some ice for a refreshing spring or summer drink! Add a couple of mint sprigs for a colorful touch!

   How to dry mint and lemon verbena leaves using the hanging method: All herbs must be dried thoroughly before storing and particularly those with high moisture content such as mint and lemon balm. Gather a bunch of herbs together by the stems and tie tightly with twine. Cover the bunch of mint with a brown lunch bag and secure. Covering the herbs with a brown bag will help them retain their color and oil content during the drying process. Hang the bunch of herbs upside down in a dark, warm (70-80 degrees F) well ventilated, dust free area. A garage works well. It typically takes 1-2 weeks for the herbs to dry completely.
   How to dry mint and lemon verbena leaves using the oven method: Drying herbs in an oven is a faster way to complete the process, but you will lose some of the oil content from the leaves. Dry in a very cool oven (high temperatures will result in a tasteless herb). Make sure your herbs are dried completely from the cleaning process before putting them into the oven. Place them in a single layer on dry paper towels, then cover with another paper towel. Wait a few minutes and check them. Do this until dry. Strip dried leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Take care not to crush the leaves as this will result in flavorless herbs. Place the leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer. Turn the oven on to "warm" (140-200 degrees F) for 20 minutes, then turn it off and pop in the herbs until they are dry. I usually do this before bed so they can sit in the oven overnight. You can use dried herbs whole or you can crush them, but make sure you keep them in a tightly closed container in a dark space.
   *Fresh herbs (not dried) will keep in a refrigerator for about a week if you place them in damp (not wet) paper towels and place them in ziploc bags.*

For more information on the benefits of mint visit 
http://www.helpwithcooking.com/herb-guide/mint.html
For lemon balm visit http://www.natural-herbal-remedies.net/lemon-balm-plant.html
For lemon verbena visit http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/benefits-of-lemon-verbena-9300.html







1 comment:

  1. This was very informative, thank you!

    My wife also has a garden where she grows a lot of herbs.

    ReplyDelete