About a week ago, I took a brief sojourn into the field next to our place.
The whole block next door used to be a home and an orchard. When we arrived 15 years ago, the orchard was long gone, but the house and garage remained. The house was burned down and the garage appropriated. Now there is a hydrant, some trees where the house was, and a goodly amount of grass. Someone used to spray for thistles and hay it. For a few years, he hayed it with a team of horses, Sandy and Patches, a set of well-trained paints. It was a wonderful sound, all the metal clinking and the machinery whacking against itself. And I couldn't help but watch.
I digress. He stopped haying by horse, then stopped haying or spraying a couple years ago, and gradually the native plants and the naturalized thistles took over again. So there are a jillion red clover plants and I took this much. Not even the bees noticed a difference! There is just a lot of red clover and some Erigeron, I think it's called heath aster. Of course plenty of thistle and grass and probably other stuff. I see burdock in there, and ...
In the next picture the small amount is what I have cleaned so far. An herbalist might say this is how much I had garbled, which is jargon for "cleaned." And by cleaning, I don't mean get the dirt off, I mean de-stem and de-leaf. The actual flower is good for you, but the stems and petioles are hard to digest, so after everyone was pretty well dried and crispy, I removed them.
The petioles curl protectively around the flower. I peel them (gently) back.
And I use my right hand to pinch them off.
Then I throw this flower into the "cleaned" pile.
Not too much more to do! I'm heading into the home stretch. By the way, if you get shoulder or neck issues, there is no reason In The World for you to do this all in one go. I'm just in a hurry. It's a day off!
Done! ... It looks like a lot less, somehow ...
Then store it appropriately. This will be different for everyone, depending on your conditions. I put stuff into jars that seal well because I have dust and grease issues. Then I put the jar into a dark cupboard.
Did I already remind you that light and heat are the two main enemies of a vibrant herb? Light and heat will both break down the essential oils in the material you have laboriously gathered, cleaned, jarred and labeled. You don't want it to smell funny when you need it, right? You don't want to have wasted your time, right? So read up, know your environment, and do it!
Labeling: Even if you have a perfect, idetic or photographic memory, remember to label. What if you give something as a gift and the other person (not you) can't remember what it is and calls you a month later? You can't be going 70 miles to their house to peek at it. Label it! It's not that hard. Please use a piece of paper with what it is and a date, if nothing else.
Here is an example of a very basic label.
What is it? Red Clover / Trifolium pratense
Date labeled or gathered or tinctured: Include the year. Please include the year. You'll kiss me for this one.
Many people will say that herbs only last six months. That may be true in their case, but the vast majority of my herbs, both storebought, gathered in my garden or wildcrafted tend to last longer. And let me tell you, I really don't remember what darned year it was. I remember where, the weather, what vehicle, even what basket or bag I gathered it into, but not the year.
And my labels often surprise the heck out of me. I stick my nose in the jar and it smells the way it should and I see that it's four years old (!) So use your good judgement. Often if it doesn't smell at all, then I'll throw it. If it smells funky, I'll throw it. If you gather an herb like valerian or catnip that you think smells funky or odd or bad anyway? Get another nose involved.
Details: This is where I'll put what it's prepared for, how much tincture to use, things like that. Yeah there's not much room on the label, so make your labels different.
This particular label I made with Corel Word Perfect back in ... '95. It is farrrrr superior to pieces of paper taped to a jar. But pieces of paper are likewise farrrrrr superior than trusting my "total recall." Last week I made some new labels in Publisher. The ones like on this jar I had so long they were getting yellow edges, lovely though they are! It really fun making labels if you're into graphics.
Above all, be sure to have fun. If you have harvested in a poopy 'tude, it will show.