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Thai Basil

Thai Basil

Herbal vinegars are a wonderful, healthful, and easy way of preserving herbs. The two primary reasons to use vinegars are to preserve fresh herbs that don’t retain their flavors/qualities as well after drying (as in the case of Thai basil, shown in the pictures, whose flavor is lost after drying) for flavorful culinary use later. The second reason—and somewhat more relevant to the focus of this blog—is for tincturing herbs when alcohol is not desired. This could be for a number of reasons. The person taking the tincture may have a sensitivity to alcohol, be a recovering alcoholic, or may be taking large enough doses where alcohol would not be a desirable menstruum. In any case, the acetic acid in vinegar acts as a solvent similar to alcohol

An added bonus of tincturing in vinegar is that vinegar is incredibly nutritious and beneficial in and of itself. And, as always of importance to me, it tastes good. You can take it straight by the dropperful, as with a tincture, or use as an herbal vinegar condiment, drizzling over salad or steamed veggies, mixing into gazpacho, etc. As a rule, never use chemical/synthetic vinegars for tincturing—apple cider vinegar is best, and of the varieties available commercially, I prefer Bragg’s.

The instructions for making vinegar tinctures are the same as those for making alcohol tincture—click here for the full instructions. Please note though that the proportions of herb used are different for dried versus fresh and root/seed versus leaf, so be sure to read all the directions.

Thai Basil filling jar for herbal vinegar

For several years, I’ve used cleansing programs as a way of healing and detoxifying the body and for resetting or strengthening metabolism. My more recent interest in ayurveda and its emphasis on panchakarma (seasonal cleansing) has helped me to approach this on a more energetic level, meaning that your body may need different kinds of cleansing in different seasons, situations, and of course always in relation to your individual constitution.

I’ve now experimented with several types of cleansing programs. The main idea of any cleanse is to eliminate any foods that contribute to toxins in the body, so during any cleansing program, you will be removing these entirely from your diet: sugar, caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, animal products (meat, cheese, butter, dairy, etc.), gluten and wheat products, and simple starches. Instead, what you do consume (depending on the cleansing program you choose) should be “pure” whole foods.

So that’s the intake part. Then there’s the other part of cleansing: the elimination of toxins from your body. Sometimes this takes care of itself, and other times you may want to help things along. First, you must drink plenty of pure water. In addition, a laxative herbal tea such as senna might be a good idea before bedtime (one cup only—this is a strong laxative), or perhaps a diuretic tea of dandelion in the morning. Also, psyllium seed husks can be mixed with water and drunk before bed to help lend “bulk” to your stool. Another option is to use a warm water enema to flush residual gunk out—it sounds scary if you’ve never tried it, but once you get over the ick factor, it just isn’t that big a deal. And you can feel the difference—I usually feel sort of “high” afterward, kind of light and energetic.

The first cleanse I ever did was a raw food cleanse, which involves eating a completely raw and vegan diet, usually for one or two weeks. The high fiber in this diet definitely helps with cleansing, and you still get to have fun preparing and chewing your food. A balance of fresh and dehydrated fruits, vegetables, and nuts, provides you with ample nutrition to sustain you through the process. I find this is my favorite when I am dealing with heat issues in my body, as this program tends to be very cooling. Since I already run hot, as a pitta, this is great for me in spring or summer when the body can easily overheat.

This past spring I tried the master cleanse, and you can get the recipe and read about my experiences day-by-day over on my Purple House blog (read all four days for full response). Briefly, this is an entirely liquid cleanse, using a lemonade made of lemons, maple syrup and cayenne. 10 days are recommended generally, but three days is about right for me I think. This program is very warming, and I’ll probably only use it toward the end of the winter months when the body starts to get sluggish. I do not recommend this for anyone who does heavy manual labor—you will not have enough caloric energy during the cleanse. Better to schedule time off and take it easy.

The last program I’d like to share is the green smoothie cleanse, developed by nutritionist Meghan Telpner. I decided to try this out this summer and loved it. Meghan’s educational nutrition e-book on the cleansing program (as well as her other e-books) is very easy to read, creative and warm, and there is a wealth of rich information and fun recipes. Essentially, this is like the raw food cleanse, but on steroids. Or you know, the healthful, all-natural equivalent *grin*

My favorite personally is the raw food cleanse, just because I love preparing food and, well, chewing. But as I said above, it’s all about figuring out what’s right for you and in what season. And of course, I have to tell you to please always check with your doctor/nutritionist before embarking on a cleanse, be aware of what the detoxification symptoms are so you are prepared and know what’s normal and what isn’t, and as always, listen to your body. If you’re body says you’ve done enough, then listen.

What are your favorite cleansing practices? Any tips you’d like to share with the rest of us?

In June, I wrote a post about a method of drying herbs that we were shown while visiting Robbie Wooding’s farm. Here at home, unfortunately, I don’t have any rafters from which to hang herbs, so I’ve often resorted to using a cheap-o dehydrator to dry my herbs. But when my dehydrator saw fit to give up the ghost last month, I decided to opt for a non-electric option.

dehydrator - drying herbs

Pictured above is my brand-spankin’-new passive dehydrator, all loaded up with cayenne peppers, thyme, marjoram, and rosemary. I love it. Granted, it cost more than I like spending on anything (ie. it cost money, any amount—I prefer free), but we’ve got grand plans of using this as our trial model and then building some more ourselves. This one is nice though. I has a hook on the top so I can hang it out on my clothesline in the sun for maximum drying (the netting zips up to keep bugs out of your goodies) and then bring it in and hang it in the kitchen at night. I can also use it for sprouting seeds, beans, nuts, etc. How cool is that?

The only downside of a passive or solar dehydrator is a reliance on the weather, but since you have to rely on the weather to gather herbs for drying anyway, this doesn’t seem like a major inconvenience to me.

It is generally recommended that one harvest aerial parts of herbs (leaves, flowers, stems, etc.—anything that grows above the ground) mid to late morning on a sunny dry day once the morning dew has lifted and there is no residual moisture on the plant. Once you’ve harvested your herb, you need to go through it, picking out any hitch-hiking bugs, any chewed on or discolored leaves, basically removing any undesirable bits. Then, you need dry heat, shade, and air flow. This can be accomplished using an electric, passive, or solar dehydrator (you can build your own!), or you can string small bundles—small enough that the air can still flow throughout—and hang them somewhere dry and warm, like the rafters of an attic or a garage, so long as there aren’t any fumes in your garage like there are in mine. Another technique if you don’t get a lot of dry heat is to put the herbs on old window screens and prop them up in your car with the windows up. Keep an eye on the herbs for doneness, and if drying outdoors, be sure to bring the drying racks or dehydrator in at night to keep off the dew.

Once the herbs are fully dried, they should be “crispy” but still retain most of their natural color if they were kept out of sun and were dried quickly enough. Store them in glass jars in a cool, dark, dry place, being sure to label them with the name of the herb and the month/year they were put up.

What are your favorite drying or dehydrating tricks and tips?

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