Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Drying Herbs: Lemon Balm, Red Perilla, and Spearmint

When the rare October 2011 snowstorm hit a few weeks back, there had not yet been a frost, and I was expecting there to be one, based on weather reports of below-freezing temperatures. The frost never materialized, and there has yet to be a frost in a broad region from Philadelphia southward (although isolated points southward have experienced some light frost).

But in anticipation of the frost, I harvested a bunch of herbs from my neighborhood. I took some of them from plants growing wild on unmaintained property, but much of them I gathered from Tabernacle United Church, with the permission of their gardener, who also informed me that the church used no chemicals on the garden. This picture was taken when the herbs were in the early stage of drying:

In the cold weather, the indoor heat of my apartment quickly dried out these herbs. They are now long-since completely dried and I have been using them to brew herbal teas, and also as ingredients in soups. I want to highlight two things in this post.

The Herbs:

In the lower-left of the photo is lemon balm; I use this herb exclusively for brewing herbal tea, which I drink in quantity. I rarely blend it with actual tea, although I frequently blend it with spearmint and other herbs.

At the top, only partially visible, is spearmint. This particular batch of spearmint, harvested from the church's bed, is exceptionally sweet, producing a totally smooth, candy-like infusion completely devoid of any bitterness or astringency. It's actually not my cup of tea; I prefer the edgier, more bitter or wild-tasting spearmints. But it is good for a change of pace and I imagine that a large number of people might strongly prefer this variety of spearmint.

At the right is red perilla or red shiso, which I wrote about before, on my post on red shiso (perilla) for herbal tea. This batch has a little tougher leaves than the others, and I've found it is a little less enjoyable as a cooked vegetable, but it still produces a delicious herbal infusion.

These herbs all have much fresher, stronger aromas than anything I could order from a catalogue.

The Church, and The Idea:

I want to thank the church and their gardener for giving me permission to harvest these herbs. But more importantly, I want to highlight to everyone the possibility of churches and other organizations growing edible plants on their grounds, and people in the community harvesting these plants. This is a classic example of edible landscaping. On my other blog, I wrote about fruit trees as edible landscaping, but herbs actually make for an easier and quicker option.

If you work with an organization in any capacity related to their grounds or maintenance, I would encourage you to look into edible landscaping, and consider making the plants you grow available to those in the community. You will be providing a valuable asset to the community. Make sure to avoid using any chemicals on your grounds, so that everything is safe to eat.

And if you do not work for any organization in such a capacity, I would encourage you to reach out to organizations when you see edible plants. They may just be going to waste. This is not the first time a church has eagerly given me permission to harvest plants growing in their gardens.

Such arrangements essentially create a free resource; they are one of the most sustainable ways to produce herbs or food, and they also help promote a more sustainable culture by helping people to be more closely connected to the food or herbs that they are consuming.

Have you ever entered into an arrangement like this, on either end of it?

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