Day 277: Drying Herbs

My mom says I’ve been fantasizing about having an herbals room since I was a kid.  She says that even when I was a toddler, I’d make little bundles of flowers and weeds I’d find in the yard, tie them up, and hang them upside down from the stair rail like I must have seen on some TV show.  To this day, I would love to have a cozy work room kind of like what’s pictured below.  The scents of all the drying herbs must be intoxicating!

A still from the BBC show

A still from the BBC show “Caedfael.” The monk has an amazing herbals room!

Alas, practical matters have to go and ruin my fantasy.  As my housemate V. found out this past year while trying to dry bundles of our homegrown mint, it’s almost impossible to keep herbs clean when you dry them “Caedfael” style.  Unfortunately in the week or so it takes even fragile, leafy herbs to dry, they become dust magnets.  If you’re going to try to dry them like this, you have to do so in a very clean, very still room.  (If you try to dry them in the kitchen like V. did, you’ll find that airborne oils from cooking will make the dust problem a lot worse.)  Even if you do dry herbs by hanging them in a clean, still room, they really shouldn’t be stored like this long-term.  Not only will they become too dirt-contaminated, the exposure to air will diminish their potency. What I like to do, then, is to employ a little modern technology to dry herbs faster, and then I store them in mason jars (and you can remove air from mason jars if you have a Food Saver vacuum pack with jar attachments).

Most commercial dehydrators would, obviously, do a fine job of getting the herbs dry, but I find that all of the reasonably priced ones are too small to do the job well, and they all incorporate heating elements in their dehydrating job.  Invariably, this “cooks” the herb and robs it of its all-important oils.  In other words, these rigs will dry your basil leaves, but the dried material won’t smell or taste all that much like basil.  What I like to do instead is to employ the “Alton Brown” dehydrating method and strap a bunch of furnace filters to a large box fan.  As seen in his 7.13 episode Herbal Preservation (start at 13:00 and go to about 15:10), this ensures a whole mess of perfectly dried leafy herbs in about 24 hours if you flip the tray stack at about the 12 hour mark.  Woody herbs may take another day or so.  There’s only a couple of things to keep in mind with the Brown system.  If you do choose to follow his lead and use furnace filters, pick up filters with a low MERV number (like 2).  The openings in these filters are larger and will allow more air through the filter, which means your herbs will dry readily.  You may also wish to build your own drying frames from furring strips and window screen, which will let lots of air through and have a bonus of being almost infinitely reusable.  If you do this, you will need to use a furnace filter against the fan itself to keep it from blowing dust onto your herbs.  You’ll also need to keep the trays horizontal (the picture below shows vertical) as your screens won’t have the folds of the furnace filters that keep the different sprigs separated from each other.  To make sure you have adequate air under the fan, you’ll probably want to elevate the fan on a couple of sawhorses or spanning the fan edges over a pair of chairs like so.

The great god Alton showing off his ingenious, multitasking herb dehydrator.

The great god Alton showing off his ingenious, multitasking herb dehydrator.

As Roderick notes in this section, drying your own ritual herbs begins with gathering them, and witches do have a special tool to help them in this process:  the boline.  In many Wiccan traditions, this is the word for any white-handled utility knife, and it will often have a curved blade, as seen below.  This curved shape is incredibly annoying if you want to use your boline to inscribe candles or cut apart a cake in circle…but it is excellent for its historically intended purpose:  cutting plants.  To use these knives, you hold them so that the blade faces away from your body.  When you extend your arm, then, the curved blade does the work and rotates evenly around the plant stem, ensuring you can “grab” and get a good cut without having any part of your body in the blade’s path.  If you do any magical herbal harvesting, I can’t recommend this type of blade enough.  Roderick shows a drawing of a boline in his 366 and gives a a magical inscription you can set upon its handle.

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Roderick does mention that it is best to harvest herbs at dawn or dusk, as their natural oils and magical properties are strongest at these times.  When you magically harvest an herb, stand before it and ground.  Imagine your feet become roots and your body becomes the herb you are about to harvest.  Try to sense whether or not the herb is willing to be harvested for your purpose at this time.  If it is unwilling, try at a later date.  If it is willing, give thanks and use your boline to cut through its stem in a single stroke.

Spend time today acquainting yourself with the list of herbs and their magical properties.  In order to gain some mastery of magical herbalism, commit to your memory at least four of these magical herbs.  To help you gain practical knowledge of these herbs, try using one or more of them in a magical brew or potion.  Devise a spell in which you would use one of the herbs in the list in combination with:  color, planetary glyph, day of the week, magical hour, and magical stone.

Huh.  It’s taken me a surprisingly long time to come up with a good idea looking through the list from Dragon’s blood to holly.  Honestly, whenever I have some sort of limiting variable to work with, I can usually come up with a decent working idea in just a few minutes.  This time, though, it took a lot of contemplation.

I’ve decided that I’m going to try to manufacture a “cheer up” spell with eyebright, whose magical properties include joy, optimism, and clarity in any situation.  It will be a component of an oil.  In a one ounce bottle, I’d place a sprig of dried eyebright, a bead of carnelian (stops negative energy), and a bead of rose quartz (brings positive energy).  I’d cover it with a carrier oil of meadowfoam, which has properties of longevity and stability.  I’d cap this and set it in a sunny window for 14 days (from new moon to full moon), then I would add triad of essential oils:  a top note of grapefruit, a midnote of geranium, and a base note of sandalwood.  All three of these oils are used in aromatherapy as antidepressants.  Grapefruit has a strong emotional impact and is refreshing, cheering, slightly euphoria-inducing and slightly energizing.  Geranium oil’s emotional impact promotes stability and balance, and Sandalwood’s impact is calming, cleansing, and centering.

In circle on a Jupiter hour of the 14th day, I would charge this oil to bring cheer and contentment to its user, and I would charge a hunk of citrine (which clears the aura and acts to stabilize the emotions, dispel anger, and encourage one to have an optimistic outlook).  Afterwards, I would have the user anoint his heart chakra with the oil after waking in the morning, and then recall a happy memory while holding the citrine to his heart.  I’d ask him to visualize this good feeling welling up in his heart and spilling into the stone, and letting the energies of this memory, the stone, and the oil mingle.  If, at any point in the day, something difficult happens or bad feelings creep in, I’d ask him to hold the citrine again to his heart and imagine that wonderful, mingled energy entering their heart again, and asking it to help improve his day.

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2 thoughts on “Day 277: Drying Herbs

  1. Arrr … Question is what does that inscription mean exactly (on Boline handle)? I want to carve that on my boline. So I don’t want to without knowing the meaning.

    • Sorry Emyrus, I don’t know what the meaning is. It was just out of Roderick’s “366” book. It is pretty much the same as the handle inscription on the white handled knife in the cover of Gardner’s High Magic’s Aid, though, and from what I understand the majority of those are adaptations of things from the Key of Solomon. Here’s a picture of the WHK from High Magic’s Aid:
      High Magic's Aid White Handled Knife

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