This is my favorite time of year because there is so much new life in the world. I love it when everything is blooming and growing. In an effort to capture some of that fresh new life and hold onto it for the rest of the year I’ve learned to preserve things. This week, Chris is out of town so I’ve been taking the opportunity to stink up the house dehydrating things and make a mess in the kitchen with infusions and syrups.
Right now our yard and pasture are full of some very beneficial weeds– dandelion and plantain. Both of these plants — really they should be called “herbs” not “weeds”– are excellent for the skin. Plantain, in particular, is great for any type of skin rash, irritation or itch because it is anti-inflammatory and somewhat antibiotic. This makes it both soothing and healing. They are easy to identify in the yard because they each have very distinctly shaped leaves.
Plantain leaves are broad and oval with well defined veins and smooth edges. They often have a crumpled texture.
Dandelions are, of course, easiest to identify when they are in bloom. But all of our blooms have faded by this time of year, so I have to identify them by their leafs which have a jagged toothed edge. I have heard that the name “Dandelion” comes from “dente” (tooth)- “lion” or lion’s teeth because of the shape of the leaves.
Also growing well right now is mint. We have several varieties- peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, citrus mint and apple mint (I think). I love using mint to add an extra bit of freshness to water – I just grab a sprig from the garden and put it in my water bottle. You can also use it fresh to make tea by heating it in water. Of course, I will dry some to use in tea during the winter but mint can also be preserved in other ways, in my case, by making it into infusions and syrups. Mint syrup is made in the same way as basil syrup which I posted about here.
I happen to have some dried calendula and dried chamomile left over from last year’s garden and so, since I was making a mess already, I decided to use them for infusions as well.
How to Make an Infusion
This is so simple it doesn’t really warrant a recipe. Basically you just take some herbs, fresh or dry, cover them with oil and let them sit. If you need your infusion to be ready really quickly, heat the mixture up first. If you know you won’t be using it soon you should use dried herbs rather than fresh- if left to sit for a long time the moisture in fresh herbs can cause the oil to go rancid (trust me on this). I happen to know that I’ll be using my infusions within the next couple of weeks for soap making, so I’m using fresh herbs.
Step 1: Fill your glass jars up with coarsely chopped herbs.
Step 2: Cover the herbs with oil. You can use any oil but I’m using olive oil because its inexpensive and is used for both soap and salves (the two main things I use infused oils for). If you are heating the infusion you can use coconut oil, but coconut oil won’t work for room temperature infusing since it is a solid at room temperature.
Step 3: Put your jars somewhere out of direct sunlight and at room temperature to sit for a while. I’ve had jars infuse for several months over the winter (using dried herbs) and they are fine, but I don’t think they actually absorb any more from the herbs after the first couple of weeks unless you add more herb material to them.
Step 4: Once you are ready to use your oils, strain out all the plant material using a fine strainer or cheese cloth.