Monday, June 30, 2008

Drying for a Drink

I've mostly kicked the coffee habit these days, thanks to the excellent tea brews (both black and herbal) offered by the Renaissance Man.

Hanging around him and playing with his collection of dried herbs has reinvigorated my own experimental brewing, suiting a morning's herbal infusion to my mood and state of health as well as the weather.

I'm no stranger to this: I've followed a couple of recipes to create soothing herbal tisanes for when I'm not at my peak, and I developed my own midsummer brew a couple of years ago. But I'm learning to try some new herbs and new combinations that work well for everyday use.

Happily, herbal tisanes and infusions can also fit into my desire to eat and live more locally. And not only can I grow several herbs for tea, but I've also found a number of plants that I can forage at the Farm and elsewhere that also fit nicely into my tea chest.

Down on the Farm, it's no surprise that red clover grows rampant in the fields where the neighbor pastures his cattle as well as around the lake. Clover appears to be one of the handiest wild plants on farms, offering nutrition to animals, fixing nitrogen in the soil, and adding a little beauty.

There's also plenty of yarrow growing inside the lake dam. I use yarrow frequently in my cramp tea, and I planted some this year, but I've never before had the chance to harvest any.

Despite having brand new soil and compost in the garden beds, I've been finding several wild edibles cropping up, including stinging nettles. They might not be much fun to pick when they're big (I don't mind grabbing a handful of them when they're small), but they dry easily and provide a nice boost of nutrition to an herbal brew.

I've combined methods for drying all these herbs for storage. The red clover and yarrow were spread out on trays and cookie sheets to begin to dry, but as the weather turned damp, I slid the cookie sheets into the oven at 170 F and gave them half an hour to an hour to finish (and to kill off the remaining bugs). The nettle leaves I gathered and tied together before hanging up to dry in an area that gets plenty of air circulation.

Add to those herbs the chamomile I gathered from the Lady Bountiful's farm and the rose petals plucked from the Renaissance Man's garden, and you can see I have a great start toward restocking my tea cabinet.

(Left to right: rose petals, chamomile, red clover, yarrow, nettle)

And as the season draws on, I plan to harvest multiple kinds of mint and some lemon balm from the Renaissance Man's garden, some dill and sage and thyme from my own, and who knows what else?

Just the thought of it makes me thirsty already.

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