Drying plants might seem to be a simple subject, but it’s a frequently asked question by first-time wildcrafters at my classes. I thought it’d be helpful to write about here for everyone to have as a reference.
UV light and heat can break down plant matter and their medicinal components, so it is a good idea to dry your wild harvested plants in the shade. I got a neat shelving unit of metal screens from IKEA that I use to dry my plants in my office/apothecary. Another thing I do often is string a nylon cord like a clothesline across the room, and hang the fresh herbs in bunches upside down from it, using twisty ties to both bind them and secure them to the cord.
Once dried, I store the plants in glass mason jars and put them on a wooden shelving unit (also IKEA, as it happens) and cover that shelf with a tapestry so that it is protected from sunlight. I keep my jars of tinctures in Crown Royal bags (gifted by friendly tenders of bar) in a dark drawer (you can buy brown bottles, too, which also help keep the light out).
I wanted to get a better understanding of why we need to shade-dry herbs, so I asked my friend Nick Zemp to explain. Zemp is the director of the Grey Mountain Herbal Clinic in Provo, Utah; a certified clinical herbalist practicing both Chinese and Western approaches with 15 years experience; and a student pursuing a B.S. in biochemistry at the moment. So, really a good guy to ask! Zemp explained:
“UV light is actually pretty hard on stuff. Once a plant is harvested it can no longer photosynthesize and produce energy or other important molecules like carotenoids that protect plants from harmful UV light. The best place to dry plants is in a cool, dry place. Many phytochemicals do degrade via heat and light, such as many vitamins and volatile compounds (things that evaporate easily) which are many times the substances that are ‘active’ in the plant from a healing standpoint.”
And there you have it. For more info on herbal medicine making, check out James Green’s book, “The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook: A Home Manual,” and/or David Hoffman’s book, “Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine.”
Follow Nick Zemp on Twitter @GreyMtnHerbs and please like his Facebook page!
– The next hands-on Medicine Making 101 workshop has been scheduled for June 23. Details here.
– Yesterday’s Urban Foraging 101 class was awesome! Next one is May 26. Details here.
– Just added a Plant Spirit Workshop with stinging nettle for June 6! Details here.