Flowers for Winter – The Shoestring Herbalist


Every summer, I go crazy with plants. I preserve everything I can get my hands on. Every winter, I look at all the herbs I saved and scratch my head. What army was I planning to heal with all this medicine?

I have bags of dried comfrey leaves, bottles of nettle infused vinegar, and plastic containers lining the freezer jammed with blueberries. It’s too much for one little family. I can’t seem to stop myself. I have to edit.

I have the luxury of a free herbal clinic to receive my leftovers. I also pipe up quickly when any of my friends or family mention the slightest illness or wound. Every year, I try to figure out creative ways to work my surplus into Christmas gift baskets. It’s never enough.

One of my more glaring displays of abundance comes in the way of tea blends. I’m a grand experimenter. I run into a new study on an herb or an article on flavor mixtures and off I fly to the tea cupboard, mason jar in hand. When I notice an interesting tea in the store, it practically jumps into my shopping cart. As a consequence, I have an ungodly number of teas.

By February, the compilation has become an embarrassment. No one can possibly drink that much tea. I’ve discovered clever ways to use them though. I turn them into premixed tincture and syrup bases.

Usually, I advise herbalists to keep their herbs separate. If they’re going to make tincture, make it in a single batch and blend the other herbs later. It allows control of the dose and the processing. There are some exceptions.

Let me use today as an example. I had a lovely tea blend which was perfectly suited for winter. It had flowers from last year’s harvest: Elder, linden, chamomile and a sprinkling of echinacea flower petals. It makes a delicious tea, but it’s in competition with a number of other teas that are also suited for immune stimulation. All of those flavonoids weren’t going to weather a second year in the cupboard.

I divided my tea blend in thirds. One third went into a jar for tincture. One third went into a cheesecloth bag in the slow cooker for a syrup. One third went back into the cupboard for more teas.

I added the grain alcohol and water mixture, which was pretty close to perfect for processing flowers, to the mason jar. I labeled it and stuck it away to extract.

I brewed up the second portion in the slow cooker as a strong, black tea and then added honey and molasses. I strained the syrup and stirred in a little ascorbic acid as a preservative. I popped the finished product with a sticky label in the fridge and surveyed my work.

I now had an appropriate amount of usable product. I had three more options for tackling the same problem. Syrup has a short shelf life, but the sweet taste makes it more popular. The tea will disappear into the tea strainer by this coming summer. The tincture may last longer, but it has a seven-year shelf life so that, too, will work out just fine.

Tinctures and syrups aren’t the only ways to reuse tea blends. They don’t have to be your own blends. Commercial blends you just love work, too. Try herbal infused vinegars, oils, or brandies.

No more waste. By next summer, I’ll be more moderate in my harvest and preserving…maybe.

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