I often get questions about how to best harvest and dry flowers and herbs from the garden, so today I thought I’d write up a little article detailing how I do it.
It might not be the fanciest system out there, but it’s worked for me for many years! :)
Harvesting Flowers & Herbs
An ideal time to collect fresh flowers and herbs from your garden is on a dry sunny day, after morning dew has evaporated, but before the midday sun is out in full force.
However, that timing just doesn’t always work out, so it’s okay to harvest throughout the day too.
Choose flowers and leaves that aren’t wilted and don’t have brown spots or lots of insect damage.
Drying Flowers & Herbs the Easy Way
After you’ve gathered a satisfactory collection of flowers and herbs, bring them inside and be ready to process them right away. If something comes up and you can’t get back to drying them for several hours, place the flowers and/or herbs in your refrigerator with a damp paper towel over the top of them.
Some flowers, such as dandelion, chamomile, calendula and lavender can be dried whole. The petals from larger flowers, such as roses and hollyhocks, should be separated from the flower head before drying. An exception to this is if you’re drying small rosebuds. They can also be dried whole, just be sure to turn a few times a day so one side doesn’t dry flatter than the other.
I dry flower clusters, like elder flowers and lilacs, upside down on a towel as shown above, to help preserve some of the shape. Small branches of leaves that easily lay flat when placed on a surface, such as elder leaf, can stay together while drying. Leaves that cluster together, like lemon balm and mint, often do best if you detach each leaf before drying.
Spread your flowers and herbs out in a single layer over a clean dish towel or several paper towels. It’s okay if a petal or two overlaps every now and then, but avoid piling the plants on top of each other or they’ll quickly start to self-compost.
Try to choose an area in your house with good air circulation and where the collected plants won’t get disturbed or exposed to long stretches of direct sunlight. (Indirect sunlight is okay.) I usually use my kitchen table or empty spots on my counters. Once or twice a day, check how everything is drying and turn over individual pieces so that they dry evenly on both sides.
If you own one, a dehydrator is also a great way to dry herbs, especially if you’re in a hurry. Follow manufacturer’s directions, or dry on the lowest heat setting, checking every hour or so.
Storing Dried Flowers & Herbs
You’ll be able to tell when a flower or herb is completely dry if you rub a piece between your fingers and it feels crisp and easily crumbles. If it still feels moist or is overly pliable, try drying longer.
Once completely dry, you can store the herbs and flowers in clean dry canning jars or in brown paper bags. I like the durable ones shown below that I purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs, but brown lunch bags work too.
For longest shelf life, keep your dried herbs and flowers stored out of direct sunlight and in a non-humid area.
Leave the herbs in whole form as much as possible and don’t crush or powder until you’re ready to use them. This helps to preserve the aromatic essential oils within the plant as long as possible and helps extend freshness.
Your dried herbs should stay usable for 9 months to a year if stored properly. As flower or leaf color fades, so does potency. Herbs that have turned dull and colorless are past their prime and should be composted.
Suggested Flowers & Herbs to Harvest and Dry
These are a few of my favorite garden flowers and herbs that I like to dry and keep on hand for various projects.
Calendula – These sunny flowers are loaded with powerful skin-healing, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, yet are gentle enough for most people and animals to use safely. You can make all sorts of things with calendula, including soap, salve and lotion bars.
Chamomile – The flowers are anti-inflammatory and antibacterial; they’re extra nice to include in preparations for sensitive skin. Some recipes on my site that incorporate chamomile include these these shampoo bars, sensitive skin lotion and soothing lip balm.
Cornflower (Bachelor Butter) – These flowers are pretty when dried and added to bath soaks and teas for their mild anti-inflammatory properties.
Dandelion – The flowers are especially treasured for their mild analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, making them an excellent addition to products designed for sore muscles or other external aches and pains. They’re also traditionally used in preparations to heal rough chapped skin. For some project ideas, read 12 Things to Make With Dandelions.
Elder Flower – The flowers are an old-fashioned remedy for clearer skin, promote wound healing and may be helpful for eczema and dry skin. I hope to add more elder flower recipes to the site soon, but until then you may enjoy this lotion recipe that includes elder flowers or this elder leaf salve.
Hollyhock – These pretty old-fashioned flowers are related to the marshmallow herb and in some cases can be used as a substitute in a pinch. For a few ideas for using them, check out these five uses for hollyhocks.
Lavender – This sweetly scented plant is anti-inflammatory, soothes skin and eases stress. For project ideas and recipes, you may enjoy reading these 1o things to make with lavender.
Lemon Balm – This prolific plant is a mild stress reliever with notable antiviral properties. More information on utilizing lemon balm can be found by reading 12 things to make with lemon balm.
Mint – The leaves of this plant are cooling and pain relieving. Mint is also great for stomach aches, nausea and headaches. If you’re looking for ways to use mint, you may enjoy this cucumber mint bath soak or these other mint ideas.
Plantain – Plantain is a common leafy green weed found all over the world. It’s specific for treating skin problems such as acne or eczema. It’s also antiseptic and astringent and is the ultimate plant to grab for first aid in the field. Learn more by reading these 10 things to make with plantain.
Rose – Besides being enjoyable to look at and smell, their cooling, soothing, anti-inflammatory and mild astringent properties make them ideal ingredients in many body care products and herbal remedies. For ideas on using these lovely flowers, check out 10 things to make with roses.
Sunflowers – These cheerful blooms have skin-soothing properties. Like cornflowers, they make a pretty addition to bath soaks and teas. If you love sunflowers, you may also enjoy this sunflower soap recipe.
Violet Flower & Leaf – Violets are not only lovely to look at, but are cooling and healing. They’re especially useful for soothing irritations and eczema when used on your skin. For some project ideas and inspiration, read 10 Things to Make With Violets.
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