Herbal Hacks, Part 3: Garden Care and Herb Drying Tips

The good ideas just keep coming! Read on for the third installment of reader-submitted herbal hacks: garden care and herb drying tips.

flowers-5792157_1920_Image by Prawny via Pixabay In summer, I dry herbs in paper bags in the rear window of my car. It only takes 2-4 days, depending on the amount of sun. – Gail Seeley

Fill a lidded, plastic trash can with water, then measure out and and add your favorite water soluble plant food. Store your watering can inside. This tip will make caring for plants in containers much easier. –Holly Cusumano

Folded and rolled towel cropped_Carol KaganExcerpt from Herbal Sampler, 2nd ed. You can dry herbs in your frost-free refrigerator. This method results in good quality and keeps the bright color of the herbs. Make sure the herbs are clean and dry. Remove the leaves from stems and place on a section of paper towel. Roll or fold the towel to cover the herbs on all sides. Secure with twist ties or rubber bands. Label. The paper towel absorbs the moisture evaporating from the herbs and the refrigerator will evaporate it from the towel. Place it in the crisper section or on a high shelf. Do not put it in a plastic bag or container. Should be dry in 2-3 weeks. –Carol Kagan

Always grow mint in a container so that you can take cuttings and give it as gifts, especially unplanned ones like a hostess gift or to give to a new neighbor. Include a recipe card with a recipe of how you use mint in the kitchen. –Peggy Riccio

Yellow_and_red_Tropaeolum_majus_(Garden_nasturtium) by Mary Hutchison via WikimediaMy husband started us on hydroponics last winter. We were thrilled with the grow lights in the basement for early starts. Basil and parsley did well. However, when we put them on the cart in the driveway to harden them off, here came the bugs. The hole-eaters even hitched a ride back into the basement at night to keep up their meal. So, my idea is to put the plants in a deep, translucent sweater box. Fill it with dirt, put the pots in the dirt and cover the top with an old window screen. The double source of soil helps the roots have more space and keeps them cooler in the heat. It is like a mini greenhouse. The sweater boxes can be found cheaply at the thrift stores. –Elizabeth Reece

Nasturtiums repel whiteflies, aphids, and squash bugs. I like planting them all around my veggies! –Shawna Anderson

herbs-drying from thegardeningcook dot comI have great luck using my car as a dehydrator. Sometimes I set up a clothesline using the coat rack hooks in the back seat to secure the clothesline and then hang herbs to dry, or I will lay them out in the trunk to dry. When we are experiencing the dry heat of the summer they dry in just a day or two! The added bonus is the scent of herbs fills the car. –Jen Munson

I was having problems with slugs on my basil, so I pulled lemon balm leaves, tore them up, and put them around the basil, which was only an inch high. It worked! I deliberately did not use mint because I was concerned it would root and then escape into the garden. –Peggy Riccio

Photo Credits: 1) Floral border (Prawny from Pixabay; 2) Paper towel technique for drying herbs in the fridge (Carol Kagan); 3) Yellow and red Tropaeolum majus (Mary Hutchison from Wikimedia); 4) Herbs drying (thegardeningcook.com)

HSA Webinar: Enhancing Brain Health using Natural Botanicals

Sponsored by The Herb Society of America’s Long Island Unit

by Jen Munson, Education Chair

Nootropics is a trending topic. Nootropics (pronounced noh-a-trop-iks) includes drugs, supplements, and plants that may improve brain function. According to Allied Market Research, a market research and advisory company, brain enhancing supplements made up $3.50 billion in sales in 2017 and is projected to grow to $5.81 billion by 2023. Unfortunately, it’s an industry that is rife with misleading ingredients and marketing.

True nootropics should aid natural cognitive function, support and protect brain function, and be non-toxic to the user. The properties and constituents of nootropic herbs have demonstrated numerous benefits. Using medicinal herbs to enhance brain health is nothing new; in fact, many have been used safely and effectively for thousands of years. 

Some brain boosting herbs can be readily found in the garden. Although rosemary has been symbolically used to represent remembrance, it is a plant rich in terpenes, phenolic acids, and antioxidants, which improved brain speed and accuracy in unofficial studies. Another commonly found plant in the herb garden is lemon balm. This lemony plant aids in increasing alertness while protecting the brain. Holy basil is a gentle herb and is thought to reduce cortisol (a fight or flight hormone) levels caused by chronic stress.

The Herbal BrainTo learn more about herbs that enhance brain health, join us on November 12th at 12pm EDT when Dr. Emory Prescott shares with us “Enhancing Brain Health using Natural Botanicals.” In this one-hour webinar, Dr. Prescott will discuss her doctoral research on nine specific herbal nootropics. Her research study was so overwhelmingly productive that it led to her leaving her clinical and teaching positions to start THE HERBAL BRAIN®, LLC. ” as a full-time business.  Attendees can expect to gain knowledge of brain cognition, neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, and the most potent cognitive-enhancing herbs as they pertain to improving brain health. As a special bonus to participants, we’ll be raffling off a gift basket made up of brain boosting products and a copy of Dr. Prescott’s book titled, The Herbal Brain. Thank you to the Long Island Unit for their sponsorship of this program!

Our webinars are free to members and $5.00 for guests. Become a member today and enjoy all of our webinars for free along with access to the webinar library with over fifty program titles. To register, visit  www.HerbSociety.org/hsa-learn/hsa-webinars/

Photo Credits: 1) Rosemary; 2) The Herbal Brain. All photos courtesy of Dr. Emory Prescott

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments.


Dr Emory PrescottDr. Emory Prescott is founder and owner of THE HERBAL BRAIN®, LLC.  Emory is also a North Carolina native, past university professor, author, avid gardener, herbalist, and medical speech-language pathologist with 26 years of experience helping patients with neurological issues. Her PhD in Natural Health Sciences and doctoral research has given her a unique perspective on brain health as it applies to typical adults, as well as those with memory issues. With a passion for healing, Emory has created a unique line of products blending highly beneficial herbs, which research has shown to enhance memory and boost brain function. THE HERBAL BRAIN® produces teas and aromatherapy products specifically blended for enhanced brain health. Her gardens are located on the Balsam Range overlooking Sylva, NC.  To contact Emory, please visit her website at www.theherbalbrain.com

Lemon Balm – A Very Lemony Herb

By William “Bill” Varney

Here are several reasons to grow lemon balm (Melissa officinalis),  the lemony herb in your garden:

  • It is an easy-to-grow, hardy perennial growing to 1 ½ – 3 feet highLemon balm flower
  • It has crafting, culinary, medicinal, and ornamental uses
  • It likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade

From the earliest of times, lemon balm has been celebrated by poets and herbalists for its “uplifting” qualities. At one time, the whole dried plant – roots, leaves, and seed – was sewn into a piece of linen and worn under ladies’ dresses to promote “an agreeable disposition.”

Lemon balm is native to the Mediterranean. The genus name, Melissa, is derived from the Greek word meaning “honeybee.” This herb’s lemony fragrance attracts bees. Hives were rubbed with its leaves to bring in swarms. Housekeepers once used handfuls of fresh balm leaves to polish and scent their furniture.

Lemon balm thrives in cooler climates. It develops into a bushy plant with substantial roots and a stalk reaching 1 ½ to 3 feet high. Leaves are toothed, textured, and smell strongly of lemon. Yellow buds open into tiny white flowers by mid to end of summer.

lemon balmPlanting and Care – Easy to grow although seeds are slow to germinate. Start from cuttings, root division, or plants bought from a nursery. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring. It accepts partial shade to full sun exposure and prefers moist fertile soil with good drainage.

Once established, plants endure in the garden unless a determined effort is made to eliminate them. They reseed easily and spread wide, so provide plenty of space. In small gardens, try growing in containers to control the plants. The stalks die with the first frost and can be cut down to the ground. In cold winter regions, place a thick layer of mulch over the crown to protect the plant; each spring it will regrow from its roots.

Harvesting and Use – One of the sweetest scented of all herbs, which makes it a delightful ingredient for sachets and potpourris. Fresh-cut stems retain their fragrance well and lend a casual flair to floral arrangements. In the kitchen, lemon balm adds a light lemony flavor to soups and stews, fish, lamb, and chicken. Freshly chopped, use it sparingly with fruits or salads. It’s a favorite replacement for salt and an inexpensive lemon zest substitute.

Always add near the end of cooking because its volatile oils are dissipated by heat. Its flavor keeps well in baked goods because it is captured by the surrounding medium. Use as a fresh garnish in hot tea and lemonade or brew as a tea. A leaf or two improves a glass of white wine. Along with hyssop, it is an important ingredient in the liqueur Chartreuse.

Lemon balm is recognized as an aid to digestion and circulation. It is reported to help relieve feverish colds, headaches, and tension. Its oil is believed to be beneficial in dressing wounds, especially insect bites.

One of my favorite recipes for using it is Lemon Balm Bars.

Lemon Balm Bars

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar 1 cup of flour
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons lemon balm leaves, minced Grated zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup blanched almonds

Combine butter, ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 cup flour, and 1/3 cup almonds in food processor. Process until mixture forms a ball. Pat into a greased and floured 9 by 9 – inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Combine sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, minced lemon balm, and lemon zest in work bowl of food processor. Process until finely blended. Add eggs and lemon juice; blend thoroughly. Pour over crust. Grind remaining 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and 1/3 cup almonds in the bowl of the food processor. Sprinkle over filling. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees or until set.

Yields 9 large lemon balm bars

Varney, Bill. Herbs: Growing & Using the Plants of Romance. Tucson, Arizona, Ironwood Press, 1998.


Herb Society of America Medical Disclaimer … It is the policy of The Herb Society of America not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any medical or health treatment.