Fall is in the air, and it’s time to bring in the bounty from your garden. Herbs are a popular choice for backyard gardens, and they often thrive a bit more than the gardener expects. If you have a huge rosemary shrub or your thyme plant is creeping all over your garden, you might be wondering how you can use or preserve all those herbs. Herbs are incredibly versatile and can be used in everything from homemade cleaning products to bath and body potions to medicines. Here are 3 ways to use your extra herbs:
1. To Make Syrups and Tinctures
You may have heard that honey has medicinal properties and acts as an effective cough syrup, but did you know herbs can make it more effective? You can use your extra herbs to make delicious and medicinal syrups by mixing them with honey. Here’s how:
Buy some raw and preferably local honey. Prep your fresh herbs by washing them and laying them between paper towels to dry for a few hours or overnight. Use a one to one ratio of herbs to honey ( ex. One cup of each.), or for a very strong mixture, use 1.5:1 or 2:1 ratio of herbs to honey. You’ll also need a glass jar that seals tightly and holds at least 12 oz. (mason jars work great.)
Pack your prepared herbs into the jar and then drizzle in the honey. Give it a stir, put the lid on tight, and let the mixture sit for about a week, stirring it once a day. After a week, you will notice that the herbs look dryer, and the honey is thinner; this is because the moisture from the herbs has been drawn into the honey, along with their medicinal properties. You can now strain out the herbs and reserve the honey. It will store well for a long time in or out of the refrigerator.
Choose your herbs for the syrup based on what you have on hand and what you want to use it for. A lavender syrup can be used on desserts or in cocktails and double as a soothing bedtime treat. Other herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, and oregano can be used alone or together to create a medicinal antimicrobial syrup. Thyme and sage are especially useful for coughs. You can administer these syrups by the teaspoonful for coughs, colds, and sore throats or mix some in with hot water and lemon to make a medicinal tea.
Tinctures of sage, thyme, rosemary, chamomile, and other medicinal herbs such as echinacea and mint are also simple to make and come in handy during cold and flu season. You’ll need another glass jar with a lid, 40% clear alcohol, like vodka, your herb of choice, and a cheesecloth.
Fill the jar halfway with your herb, then add vodka, so it’s 2 inches above the herbs. If you’re using a mason jar, put parchment paper between the lid and the jar before you close it to keep the rubber seal from dissolving. Now close it up and give it a shake twice a day for a month. After a month, you can use the cheesecloth to filter out the liquid. It will keep for a long time in a cool dark place.
2. To Make Homemade Cleaning Products
You might be having trouble finding rubbing alcohol at the store right now, but you can make effective homemade cleaning products by combining antimicrobial herbs with vinegar or vodka. You’ll need a glass spray bottle, the aforementioned white vinegar or vodka, and herbs of your choice. Oregano, thyme, and sage all have potent antimicrobial properties, but the vodka and vinegar kill germs on their own so if you want to use mint or lavender, go ahead. They have milder antiseptic properties and will add a pleasant scent.
To make an all-purpose cleaner, use a one to one ratio of Vodka and vinegar; keep in mind that most spray bottles hold 16 oz. Heat the vinegar a bit, but don’t let it boil. Put one to two cups of your fresh herbs in a sealable glass jar and pour the warm vinegar and room temperature vodka over them. Let the mixture sit for fourteen days, then strain the liquid into the glass spray bottle.
This recipe is very versatile, and you can add things like citrus peel or essential oils to make it your own. You could also use all vinegar instead of part vinegar, part vodka, but you will end up with a more pungent vinegar smell when you use it. Once you’ve poured it into your spray bottle, you can clean anything from counter-tops to floors with it and feel confident that they are both clean and toxin free.
3. To Make Personal Care Products
Bath and body products can be expensive, and many contain undesirable chemicals, but with your homegrown herbs and a few other ingredients, you can make effective non-toxic lotions and potions.
For a homemade herbal shampoo, make a strong tea using 9 tbsp of herbs and one cup of boiling water. Rosemary, chamomile, mint, calendula, and lavender are all excellent choices for personal care products as they have many hair and skin-loving benefits. Steep the herbs in hot water in a glass jar for about thirty minutes. Strain out the herbs and add the tea to ½ cup of store-bought liquid castile soap. You can add a small amount of argan or jojoba oil to this for some extra conditioning (no more than ¼ tsp.)
For a stronger scent, you can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil. It will already have a light herbal scent. Rose petals can also be used in this recipe to add more scent and additional benefits; just make sure they are from roses that have been organically grown. This shampoo will keep for about a week with no added preservatives. For longer shelf life, you can add a natural preservative like leucidal.
You can also make relaxing bath salts by mixing either chunky sea salt or Epsom salts and dried herbs*. Add a few drops of essential oil for extra scent. Chamomile and lavender are perfect for this recipe, but rosemary can also be relaxing.
*Drying your homegrown herbs is easy; tie them in a bundle and hang them up in a cool, airy place or put them in a paper bag in a cool dark area. Once they are thoroughly dried, you can pull them out and use them for cooking, sachets, bath salts, and more.