Herb season will continue in autumn – read how you can store your herbs for the winter

Herbs are one of the most important raw material groups of cosmetics. Many herbs are very useful in skin care and you can find them in creams and lotions. I myself am excited about natural herbs. Many wild herbs contain valuable plant chemicals. All herbs are available pre-dried in online stores. However, collecting herbs from nature is a really fun and relaxing amusement. I recommend you to take a trip to the forest to collect wild herbs.

What is the right time to pick up wild herbs?

You’ve certainly come across the argument that wild herbs can only be collected in the spring and early summer. This is definitely a misconception. For culinary use only, wild herbs should be collected in the spring. The young plants are mild-tasting and delicious. In contrast, herbs for cosmetic use are usually not at their best in the spring.

For cosmetics use, wild herbs should preferably be collected a little older

Adult herbs contain all the active ingredients of the plant. Bitter substances do increase as the summer progresses. Bitter substances are skin-tightening plant chemicals and therefore very important in cosmetics.

There are herbs and wild plants that can only be picked up in the spring and early summer like inflorescences of dandelion or fresh growth of spruce. They can only be found in a very short period of time in early summer.

With the onset of autumn, the vitality of plants dwindles

The leaves of the plants wither and turn yellow as autumn progresses. Yellowed leaves are no longer suitable for making cosmetics. Now you can take utilize the roots of the plants. Many plants have active substances that migrate to the root system in the fall. The roots of the plants are at their best just in autumn. Remember to respect the nature and other people. If you are collecting roots, you should always ask permission from the landowner and do not harvest too much, leave something for the next summer as well.

In the fall and even in the winter you can utilize the bark of a plant. The bark has a lot of astringent ingredients as well as other useful plant chemicals. For example, willow bark is rich in natural salicylates. In Europe and America, white willow is a very popular cosmetic ingredient. We have many other willows in Finland that are just as good.

Always respect the nature when collecting herbs

The herbal hobby also has its ecological side. In nature, we always work under the conditions of nature.

  • Do not collect rare herbs or endangered plants
  • Collect only the number of herbs you need. Even if the plant is abundant in the growing area, pick it up sparingly and leave herbs for others as well.
  • Do not collect any plant that occurs in its habitat with only one or two individuals. Let the plant spread in peace and then gather a few for yourself.
  • If the plant is large, take only part of the plant and leave the rest to grow
  • Avoid unnecessary root collection.

Choose a dry weather for collecting herbs

Do not collect herbs in the rain or immediately after the rain. Moist herbs are difficult to dry. The best time to collect herbs is immediately after morning dew. The lunar calendar advises to collect herbs always at the rising moon. Then they retain their colour and active ingredients best.

How do I Dry the Herbs?

For cosmetic use, it is better to dry the herbs in small bunches. You don’t need a plant dryer to dry cosmetic herbs. A plant dryer is only necessary if you want to dry large quantities of plants for tea or food.

Tie the herbs in small bundles to hang in a dark, airy place. Let them dry in peace for a couple of weeks. The herbs are dry enough when you can grind them by squeezing with hand. It is very important that the plants are really dry. If there is still moisture left in the plants, they will grow moldy easily.

Once the plants are dried, you can remove the flowers and leaves off the stems. Store them in a glass jar with a lid and keep in a dark and cool place. There is no use for stems in cosmetics.

You can also dry the herbs on a table, cabinet shelf or on a board. Spread a clean cotton cloth on a flat surface and place the herbs airy on top of it. This type of drying works best if you remove the stems from the plants. Especially strong, thick stems easily absorb nutrients from the leaves. The stems are usually not worth drying. The active ingredients of herbs are usually found in flowers, leaves and roots.

Drying of plant roots

Drying the roots of plants is a bit more challenging. The roots should first be thoroughly cleaned with water and a brush to get rid of all soil. Dry the roots thoroughly after washing.

Cut the roots into small pieces and dry in a dark, cool place on a board. The roots dry really slowly. They should be left for weeks to dry on their own.

I have sometimes tried drying the roots of the oven. Even then, the operation takes a painfully long time. Drying in the oven also has its downsides. The oven temperature easily rises too high. Then the plant’s sensitive chemicals are in danger of being destroyed. A better alternative to the oven is a plant dryer.

Preservation of herbs in cosmetics by freezing

Autumn is a time of fruits and berries. They can also be used in home-made cosmetics. I have dried apples of wild apple tree for cosmetics. However, berries and fruits should be preserved by freezing.

All parts of the plant subject to freeze, such as leaves, fruits, berries and roots, must first be heated. Heating stops the enzyme activity of the plant and thus the active ingredients of the plant remain better frozen.

If parts of the plant are not heated, the plant will continue to live as if it were under the snow. Freezing does not stop the plant’s functions. The plant continues to age despite freezing. Important nutrients are destroyed while enzyme activity is still going on.

Steaming for a couple of minutes is enough to stop the enzyme activity.

Freezing is an easy and effortless way to store cosmetic herbs. Frozen herbs can be used in in creams. You can also use frozen herbs for toners, herbal baths and skin steaming. I have used frozen herbs for face masks as well.

  Personally, however, I prefer dried herbs. Dry herbs are easier to utilize in oil extractions. If you use dried herbs to make herbal oil, there is no need to remove water from the oil. Frozen herbs contain a lot of water,  often more than fresh herbs. Therefore, frozen herbs should not be used to make oil extract.

How have you preserved herbs for the winter?

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