In the spring and summer, as some of my herbs and flowers grow lush and full, I snip a little sprig here, a few blooms there, and I bring them inside. I don’t like anything going to waste, but there’s no way I can work oregano or mint into every meal while it’s in season. So I save them to dry for when I do need them. I’ll brew some for tea and toss pinches of this or that into a soup or stew. However, this past summer, I also had something else in mind when I was drying herbs and flowers from the garden: gifts.
I fancy myself to be a pretty crafty person. I love to knit and sew and embroider, and whip out my glue gun when the mood strikes. But I had never really considered packaging up my dried garden bounty to give to someone as spices, or natural beauty products, or tea.
I’ve been inspired by my friend Stephanie Rose who creates the most beautiful projects for her site Garden Therapy. I was even able to plant one of the seed collections (the Natural Beauty Garden Kit) she created for Garden Trends. This inspired me to dry plants like bachelor’s buttons and calendula.
Drying herbs and flowers
There are a few ways to dry herbs. You want to make sure your drying area gets lots of air circulation. Since I garden organically, I don’t wash the herbs before hanging, but I do give them a thorough inspection and a good shake to make sure I’m not bringing any bugs indoors.
The best time to trim herbs (using herb scissors or snips) is first thing in the morning after the dew has dried. There are a few drying options. There are these lovely hanging racks with hooks you can use to hang the plants. I’ve also seen screens that stack on a shelf. Some people use their dehydrator. I hang mine in bunches tied with twine on a curtain rod in the dining room, so there is a possibility if you drink my chamomile tea, you might be drinking a bit of brewed dust, as well. Some gardeners will cover their herbs with a ventilated paper bag to keep the dust off. I like the 19th century apothecary look.
I leave my bunches hanging for a few weeks. You’ll know they’re ready when they’re crunchy to the touch. I save tea tins or use mason jars to store mine in a dark cupboard.
Here are some of the herbs and flowers I like to dry:
- Thyme (especially lemon thyme)
- Mint: Chocolate mint, spearmint, apple mint, whatever I grow in any given year!
- Lemon balm
- Bachelor’s buttons (for the first time this year)
Drying herbs and flowers to make gifts from the garden
With several bunches of herbs dried and ready to go, I decided to package them up in different ways for handmade gifts. My various varieties of dried mint and chamomile are destined for tea bags and tins, my oregano is crushed and ready for a spice jar, and my lavender has been blended into a blissful bathtime soak.
Lavender bath salts
I thought I’d start with the inspiration for this post. It’s excerpted with permission from Stephanie Rose’s book Home Apothecary: Easy Ideas for Making & Packaging Bath Bombs, Salts, Scrubs & More. (Rose also teaches an online workshop on this topic.)
Recently, I stayed at a hotel that offered a little spray bottle beside the bed containing lavender for your pillow. It was meant to encourage a deep night’s sleep. If you know someone who enjoys a before-bed bath routine, lavender bath salts would make a nice gift. Rose packaged hers in these sweet little test tubes with cork stoppers. I found a similar bottle that I thought I’d try.
- 270 grams Epsom salt (which is a bit more than a cup)
- 1/4 to 3/4 cup dried lavender buds (I used just over a quarter)
- 30 drops of lavender essential oil
Mixing it all together
- Place the Epsom salt in a bowl and add the dried lavender.
- Using a dropper, add the essential oil and mix well.
- Use a funnel or rolled paper and fill your container with the Epsom salt, leaving about 1 inch of space at the top. This recipe makes 3 test tubes.
- There are some other great recipes in this book that I intend to try, including lotion bars and lip balm.
Drying herbs and flowers for herbal tea
In university, I used to get a lot of tummy aches. It might have been because I’d eaten a plate of curly fries or greasy pizza for dinner. One of the girls on my floor recommended a brand of chamomile tea her mom would buy that was imported from Italy and used the whole flowers. That first cup of tea almost instantly eased my symptoms and I’ve been drinking it ever since (even though my diet is considerably heathier!).
Niki has some great tips for growing and brewing dried or fresh chamomile in this article. When I snip chamomile for drying, I tie the stems with twine and snip the flowers off later for tea.
I also enjoy drying different varieties of mint—chocolate, apple, spearmint—there are some really fun flavours. Blending a few together can be fun, too. (Here are some great tips for growing a garden full of herbal tea.) I once came away from a naturopathic clinic with a paper bag that contained 30 grams of Matricaria recutita (German chamomile), 20 grams of Melissa officinalis (lemon balm), and 10 grams of Mentha piperita (peppermint). Anyone who has mentioned they have an upset stomach has gotten a few teabags of this blend and it works like a charm.
There are a few ways to package your tea. I store mine in a lovely little Anthropologie jar with a chalkboard paint label that I got as a gift (the herbs are not exposed to the light, even though it’s on display). I also found these lovely clear ornaments that are meant for photos. I ditched the photo insert and filled with chamomile flowers instead (as shown above). You can also make your own tea bags from unbleached, biodegradable paper tea bags. Then, create your own tags listing your magic blend and sew to the end of the bag.
Drying herbs for the spice rack
I really don’t like having to buy spices I can grow myself, especially herbs I consistently grow, like oregano, thyme, and basil. In the summer, I snip them fresh. For winter, I dry some and squirrel them away. Oregano is a favourite. It tends to be in a lot of ingredients lists for hearty winter soups and stews.
Speaking of soups and stews, you could create your own spice blend—perhaps oregano, thyme, parsley, and a couple of bay leaves for turkey or chicken soup! You might even consider adding a recipe card.
Over a bowl, I just crumble the herbs by gently running my fingers up and down the stem, so the leaves come away. I then use a funnel to put them in jars.
Writing and creating for this article has me inspired to explore other projects I can create from my dried herbs and flowers. Do you get crafty with things you’ve picked in the garden?