Now, we are in the deep midst of summertime, when it’s brighter out the window than I ever remembered it being, when the cicadas’ crescendoing hymns rise and fall to a rhythm of their own, when the gentle breeze on my second floor apartment permeates the heady scents of the spearmint, lemon balm, sage, and lavender bushels hanging from every which hook I could find to dry them, in the effort to store them and all these things, for the Autumn and Winter. I love infusing herbs in oils, water, alcohol, and vinegar in the sunshine, under the moon, out in the open air, the rain, the dew, the birdsongs, the cicada chorus, because it allows nature to be infused into them. Later on, in a few months when all these intricacies of summer will have passed and I’ll have forgotten how bright it can be outside, I’ll be able to access the energy of summer through these herbal infusions in the forms of teas, tinctures, oils, vinegars, and balms. Their scent will remain secured in glass jars; and scent being the most poignant sense, with the greatest power to evoke memory, will momentarily transport me, calm me, instill hope in me, for a future time and place. I recently learned that the sense of smell is intrinsically linked to the future, redemption, and to the next world, and that is why in the Jewish Havdalah ceremony that is made after the Sabbath, a second blessing for the spices is not made, because scents are already completely elevated and of another realm and plane of existence. Summer’s gift is one of bright light, openness, and carefree joy. A wild, uninhibited bounty of plants and flowers burst from the Earth, offering us more than we can even imagine having. My own tiny garden plot at my parent’s home is no larger than a few square feet, yet the bounty seems to be endless. I believe this is nature’s way of helping us get through the future seasons, by harvesting, drying, and storing herbs and other gifts. Autumn, Winter, and Spring have their own gifts that are each so beautiful and perfect – each so vital. It’s a blessing to live in tune with the seasons, to look into the eyes and heart of each one and determine what is its essence, its teaching. Summer is generous and full. Today, driving with my husband down the bright road, planning a trip out on Long Island to harvest more wild plants, I realized we must seize the seasons.
My favorite way of drying herbs (and the most practical for apartment living) is to gather bushels of herbs from the garden or the wild and tie a string around the stems. Separate the sprigs a bit so that there is room for air to circulate. I then hang these beautiful bouquets upside down from hooks, strings, or even cabinets in the kitchen. They should be kept out of direct sunlight, close to a window where air circulates. If you want to preserve the color of the herbs more, or protect them from light or dust, you can cover the bushel with a brown paper bag, with the stems at the opening of the bag. Then, cut open the bottom of the bag, and cut slits in the sides for more air ventilation. Check if the herbs are ready by feeling if they are crunchy and completely dry. When they are, take them down and pull off leaves into a bowl. Preserve the leaves in a air-tight jar in a dark, cool spot.