The past week has been another roller coaster around the homestead. We’ve worked in the garden, planted in the greenhouse, begun work on re-doing pens in the barn for the animals, worked in the rapidly growing herb bed, marked our queens in both our bee hives and added supers for honey stores, and made a trip to the ER with our son.  All the while we have begun planning a 2016 Spring Gathering for local homesteaders/self-reliant persons/farmers etc.  We are excited about how well it is coming together and I will be doing some individual posts regarding the event, presenters and schedule for the day.

Yesterday, I worked in the greenhouse and herb garden.  I have always wanted mint….and now I have MINT….three kinds….fast growing….oh-my-goodness-mint!  The best advice I have for anyone growing mint is do not be afraid to pull up the runners and dispose of them!  Mint is prolific, some even say invasive!  My Homestead Mint is a very hardy variety and yesterday I thinned at least a bushel basket full.  I pulled it, roots and all, and know that I will be doing this regularly.  I planted it in a buried container initially, to help contain the roots, but it still sends out runners and likes where I put it enough to spread like wild fire.  I don’t say all this to discourage anyone planting it, in fact just the opposite, I encourage everyone who wants any kind of herbs to grow mint.  Mint is an easy herb to grow and has many uses.  Success is almost assured, but you do need to be aware of its prolific nature when choosing the planting site and be prepared to spend a bit of time to keep it controlled.

In trying to keep the mint from taking over the other 10 or so herbs I have in one bed, I spent the day yesterday pulling the runners.  When I found myself with no less that a bushel of pulled mint, I began to think of what to do with it.  No way did I want to just burn it, or waste it.  I wasn’t sure about feeding it to the rabbits or chickens, so I decided to make sure it was used for human consumption until I can confirm its safety for my animals.  I had always thought of harvesting herbs as a one time thing, much like corn or green beans.  You pick it, process it, and your are done…..with herbs though, you can harvest all season long.  Each type has it’s ideal time, and depending on the intended use, you may choose to harvest certain times of the year for specific processes, but you can harvest it any time.  I’m not an herbalist, and am just learning much of the basics about herbs and their uses, so I won’t give specifics that I may or may not be accurate about.  I encourage you to do some research.  It is fascinating.

After thinning out the herb bed and removing all the wondering Mint, I selected some nice healthy starts and potted them into cups, with large holes drilled for drainage.  I made sure to choose plants that had large root systems.  These will be offered for sale for $2 each as soon as I am certain the roots are strong and the plants are growing.  I will also be starting, sage, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, and others as time allows.

After potting,  I pinched each plant back  to encourage new, bushier growth.  Each place that was pinched back should send out 2 more shoots.  I used to avoid pinching back plants.  It just didn’t seem right to pinch them back after they had worked so hard to grow. Now that I understand exactly how the plants grow, and how pinching back encourages healthy, bushy plants, I find it much easier to accept this part of the growing process.  The end results are much stronger, healthier plants that produce more.  I also saved all the leaves that got pinched off and added them to my extract, so nothing was wasted at all.

After pinching all the tops, making sure the starts got a good drink of water, the top leaves were saved for washing off and making my first start of mint extract.  I took the rest of the plants I had thinned into the Canning Kitchen.  I removed the roots and washed the stalks and leaves to remove any bugs or debris.  The stalks were then stripped of the leaves and discarded.  When I got enough to pack tightly into a quart jar, the leaves were packed tightly and covered with Vodka.  After making sure the leaves were all submerged below the surface of the liquid, and air bubbles were removed, the jar was tightly capped and was set in a dark cool place to set for several weeks.  Most people who do extracts recommend colored jars/bottles to avoid breakdown from the light.  I don’t have a good selection of blue or brown glass jars or bottles, so I am using a cool dark corner on one of my canned good shelves for now.  Hopefully this will get me by until I can get some more appropriate jars.

I then set out to clean the rest of the mint.  Prep it for the dehydrator so that it could be dried for tea.  I dumped it in the sink, cut off all the roots, washed and rinsed it and laid it out on one of my drying screens to drain. 

These drying screens are invaluable to me.  I made them to store my sweet potatoes over the winter, but have many other uses in the canning kitchen.  I will be making more very soon.

There are couple different schools of thought on the drying process.  Some require stripping the leaves prior to drying, others allow the leaves to remain on the stems.  If you bundle the stems and let them air dry, the stems are necessary to tie to.  I chose to leave my leaves attached to the stems for the dehydrating process.  I will remove the leaves as I crumble them for tea.  This works best for me and they seem to be removed faster after they are dry than removing the leaves when they are green.  With my dehydrator, the mint will be completely dry overnight, even with the stems.  If you are drying in the air or sun-drying on a rack, it might be worth the effort to remove the leaves so that you are not retaining moisture in the stems.  When dry, the mint has a beautiful blue/green/brown appearance.  I will eventually mix my leaves with lemon balm, chamomile, and other herbs for various flavored teas.  I am excited to experiment with various flavors and see what I can brew!

I know my ancestors did not have the benefit of electric dehydrators and had to utilize the sun, air and other means of drying.  By being a Modern Missouri Pioneer and using my dehydrator I can do in a few hours what it used to take weeks to do.  This should allow me the time to experiment and come up with some tasty teas for both summer and winter.  Many of the herbs I am considering, have medicinal properties as well as wonderful flavor.  These teas, tinctures, extractions, decoctions and infusions can be used in combination to boost our health and treat illnesses, all naturally.  They can be used in making salves, lotions and soaps.  The possibilities are nearly endless.  I’ve only just begun to learn.

I’m sure my son, would love it if I could grow a plant or whip up a medicinal that could repair bone and replace teeth.  He had a mishap a couple of days ago.  While working on a ladder, he leaned one way, the ladder went the other and after the air conditioner effectively removed two of his front teeth on the way down, his right arm “broke” his fall, literally.  He will be laid up a while, recovering from both orthopedic and oral surgeries.  The lessons learned are many, not the least of which is remembering that that little sticker on the top of a ladder that reads, “NOT A STEP” it is really important to pay attention to. 

Everyone be safe when working outdoors in the Spring.  It only takes a moment to do things safely, and it may take weeks or months to heal up if you choose an unsafe method that you think is faster.  Sorry, Son, but you gave me a teachable moment….and you did photobomb my phone last week!  I love you!

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