And so it begins

After months of planning, sowing, watering and weeding the harvest has started to trickle in. Right now our house has a smell going on that you will never be able to buy in an air freshener aisle. Or want to.

The food dehydrator has been humming all week with a wild mixture of plants inside. The lemon balm and mint were wonderful. Today there is plantain, lavender and dill on the trays and the aroma wafting about the house is…interesting.

I use dill weed like some people use salt. I like it on pretty much every vegetable I cook. I start harvesting the leaves off the dill when they are about a foot high. You don’t need a lot of plants to fill enough jars to see even a dill fiend like myself through a winter. A half dozen plants will more than do it. Plant more if you want dill seed for pickling.

Plantain is a common weed that is on par with dandelions for both being prolific and for having amazing medicinal uses.

As you can tell by the similarities, the common weed known as plantain belongs to the same family as hostas.

Herbalists refer to plantain as ‘The Mother of all Plants’ for its wide range of healing properties. The leaves can be used fresh in salads or fresh or dried for teas to help with colds or bronchial problems.

Many people have had success using plantain tea to quit smoking. Drinking a cup before having a cigarette is said to give the feeling of having “over smoked” shortly after you light up.

Perhaps its most famous and important use is a poultice for insect bites, bee stings, cuts, scrapes, stinging nettles and other skin irritations. Some claim it even helps with venomous snake bites or for healing broken bones.

Simply have the person chew a leaf thoroughly and then place the chewed up leaf onto the afflicted area to draw out venom or poison. and speed healing. Compresses soaked in plantain tea are also said to be beneficial.

Obviously plantain is not a replacement for proper medical care, and whether it can save you from a venomous snake bite or help with healing a broken bone is debatable, but if you are out in the wilderness with nothing to lose, it might at least help until you can get to a hospital.

For smaller issues like mosquito bites, small cuts or a run-in with a nettle patch, chewing up a leaf and applying it to the irritation is just the thing.

And here’s a bit of serendipity; plantain almost always grows near stinging nettles. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if it is mere coincidence, it’s a welcome one.

Since it is such a dependable “weed” I don’t plant plantain. I simply let a couple of them grow in my garden until they send up seed spikes and then I harvest and dry the leaves to use in the winter for teas, salves and soaps.

As much as I love both dill and plantain, it is the addition of lavender to the drying trays that is helping to make our home smell tolerable. Weird, but tolerable.

I planted Munstead lavender last year and, as always, was thrilled to see it rise and shine this spring. It is a cold hardy lavender that does great in our harsh climate. I’ve grown it in gardens before, so I don’t know why I am beyond excited to see it survive the winter, but I always am. I guess it is because I associate it with the sight and scent of the more fragile French lavender, so it feels decadent to have it as a perennial in the north. And it is rated as Zone 4a while we are more 2b or 3a, so it is always a bit on the iffy side. However, if you mulch it well before going into winter it will usually survive.

I dry lavender for soaps, adding to bath salts and for teas.

Plantain, lavender and dill midway through drying. I pulled the trays out a little too hard causing the plantain leaves to jump on each other just before I took this picture. Obviously the leaves need to be spread out on the rack evenly, not clustered up in a corner like that!

For the next couple weeks herbs will continue to rotate their way through the dryer, but soon it will be the most anticipated drying season of all…tomatoes!

Growing tomatoes can seem less than cost effective. As the joke goes, growing your own tomatoes is a great way to spend three months of your life to save $2.17.

Making your own dried tomatoes is another story. A smallish jar of sun dried tomatoes can sell for six or seven bucks.

Suddenly those three months of selecting, seeding, watering, pruning, staking and feeding your homegrown tomatoes are completely justified when you line a pantry shelf with a few dozen jars of your own dried tomatoes. Or semi justified anyway.

Tomatoes in my dehydrator…French tarragon waiting its turn on top! This picture was taken back in 2013 on the farm.

If you haven’t dried tomatoes before and would like to give it a try, basically you just slice the tomatoes thin, put them in the dehydrator and check every couple hours and remove the ones that have dried. They should still feel leathery, but with no moisture whatsoever.

If you haven’t finished drying them by the time you want to go to bed at night, you can simply turn the dryer off and resume in the morning.

You can store the dried tomatoes in jars as is. They make great chewy snacks right out of the jar or you can cover them with a bit of hot water to rehydrate them before using in your favourite recipe.

For a softer version right out of the jar, you can also preserve them in olive oil. If the tomatoes are completely submerged beneath the oil (this is crucial) they will keep for upwards of a year if not more.

While I just used regular tomatoes in the photo above, the best variety for drying are the plum type tomatoes.

Cherry tomatoes work great as well. Simply cut them in half and put them on the trays. Removing the seed pulp will quicken the drying the process but you don’t have to be too fussy about it.

If you like them salted you can do that before putting them in the dryer.

Lots of people salt some and forgo it on others for both health and future cooking purposes. Cherry tomatoes are perfect for this. Since they are going to have to be spread out on the sheet cut side up in order to best hold the salt, you can spread the non salted ones cut side down and dry both at the same time. That way it is easy to tell which is which when you take them out.

But as I said, I am still weeks away from tomato drying time. In the meantime herbs will keep the dryer humming along.

How about you? Do you like to dry things for winter? What’s in your dryer? Or do you prefer a different method? Feel free to share in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “And so it begins

  1. Yum! Home dried tomatoes are the best!! And how satisfying it will be to use all those dried herbs this winter, enjoy! And this inspires me to return to a bit of gardening next year!

    • You’ve been just a tad busy this year alright. I’ll send you some dried tomatoes – provided an early frost doesn’t wipe them out. 😀

  2. I love dried tomatoes too! I have powdered them too, this can be added to dishes where you might use tomato paste. Dried zucchini chips are good, I find that dried vegetables are so handy to take up to our summer place-no refrigeration. Thanks for the tip about dill, I have some to pick now. I must tell my daughter about plantain, she has a small handmade soap business and makes salves too.

    • Hi Lea, I love the idea of powdering tomatoes as a replacement for tomato paste. I haven’t done that before but will try it. I have never dried zucchini before neither but I have lots coming to size right now and will give that a go as well. Thank you for sharing! Shannon

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