The Homesteader's Herbal Companion

The Announcement You’ve Been Waiting For

When I was in high school I had multiple research papers and book reports that were due. They were normally the most in depth and horrid thing for a teenager, but I absolutely loved them. Back then, you wrote your book report with a pencil and paper. You’d erase your mistakes by hand, bringing your pencil up to your chin, wondering how to replace that sentence with a better one full of imagery. Or, maybe that was just me. Maybe I was the only teenager who did that.
None-the-less, I remember handing in a book report one day, and shortly after I’d handed it in, it had already been scored. I went to a small Christian school in high school—only about 30 kids in total. So when someone got called up to the front, you’d hear just about everything that teacher had to say.
It was one of the very last book reports I’d ever do in high school, and I really wanted it to be done well.
As I walked up to the front to collect my graded paper, she peered over her glasses and quietly said, “Amy, you have a gift for writing, you’re going to be an author one day.”
She smiled.
I had a blank stare.
She had a way of building us kids up. The head of all teachers, the woman who would let you know you were out of line in a heartbeat, but who was gentle enough to cheer you on in love and grace.
At first I believed every word that flowed from her lips, but soon doubt crept in and the instant gratification high was gone.
Her words have stayed with me ever since…and that brings me to that big announcement you’ve all been waiting for…

This week, I signed my very first book contract with a real publisher.
A publisher who is well known in the world of outdoor living and homesteading books. A publisher that I connected with instantly. A publisher that my best friend, when hearing me talk about them, said, “I don’t know, Amy, something about this just feels right.”
It helps to have friends who are logical enough to tell you when something is just a bad deal or a good deal, but who are absolutely there to pray for you and with you, and who heed the Holy Spirit…that still small voice inside.
I can’t tell you, in detail, what the book is about just yet. That will come in the next month or so when we release the cover and begin pre-sale and marketing. But I can absolutely tell you that it’s about homesteading, real life modern homesteading, and herbs. You know how much I love my herbs. This is the book I wish I could’ve read when I first started my journey.
It is so much more than just homesteading and herbs…
But, that’s all I can tell you for now!
More than anything, however, I want to tell you how this came about. Because honestly, it happened so quickly that if I would’ve blinked, I would have missed it all.
If you’ve been following my journey for any amount of time, you know that back at the beginning of the year I was offered a book deal for this book. Actually, I had pitched a generational family cookbook, but no one was interested in that. Failure number one.
A publisher asked me if I had another book rolling around inside, and so I sent the beginning stages of this book. They immediately approved it and made an offer. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t connecting with them. Even though friends of mine had published through them successfully, I just didn’t feel like it was a good deal for me. Not to sound snobbish, but, I knew there was more out there. I knew I brought value to the table through my experience of more than a decade in the media industry, and through Homesteaders of America, and so, I declined the deal.
Yep, you read that right, I declined it. I said I’m sorry and I walked away from it.
The things people said to me were just, well, most of them weren’t nice or said with good intention.
I had people ask why I thought so highly of myself not to take the deal. I had others tell me I’d never get a better deal being a first time author with no experience. That no experience thing always got me. I’ve been writing, professionally, not just a blog, for years.
I had others mock me, call me a liar (they didn’t think the offer was actually made), and more.
This happens online. Honestly, you must have some type of thick enough skin to not let it get to you, but be gentle enough to love people right where they are.
To  be honest, after that experience of the first deal going wrong, I had talked myself out of that book. I didn’t think it was right for me because I didn’t get what I was expecting from that experience. Also, I was simply just too busy to worry with it.
I ended up connecting with an agency for Christian living publications and began working on a book proposal about homemaking. But still, the herb book was in the back of my mind. As I would cut my herbs to feed to the chickens, or roast potatoes with fresh herbs from the garden this Spring, still, the book was there.
So imagine my surprise when I opened my email at the beginning of June (that’s how recent this all went down!), and noticed an email from two different publishers—the publisher that I chose, and Storey Publishing. That’s right, you read that right, Storey Publishing. But you also read it right that I did not choose Storey Publishing.
I still wonder if I’m crazy for that. I still wonder if I should’ve thought about it more, but sometimes you just can’t over think it. You have to go with where you feel the Lord leading you. And He was leading me to someone else…the second publisher…and here’s why…
I was holding onto the truth that there was more out there for me, someone I could connect with. I had made a decision not to go with the first publisher that came my way. And don’t you know, I got a better deal…and I connected with this publisher on so many levels.
Because I waited patiently, I got exactly what I wanted, what I knew I was worth.
I didn’t even know these two new publishers were interested in my book. I had sent them the proposal quite a long time ago, and now suddenly, here they were, ready to pitch it and make offers. And I was over here like, uhhh.
Just as quickly as I received the emails, I received an offer from the publisher that I signed on with. We spoke by phone. We connected. We laughed. And when I asked her what set them apart from other publishers, she answered…We like to tell stories. We like to educate people on a personal level, from real life experiences, not just a long research paper. We want someone to feel something when they read our books.
 
Bam. Sold. Just like that. That’s what I had been waiting for. Story tellers…Depth…Feeling…
Everything in between was blurry, but I know that it’s a good move. And I’m excited beyond belief. But also, I’m about to become a hermit. And I tell you that so that you know I haven’t disappeared, I’m simply consumed until September!
Ya’ll, I have so many words to write before my manuscript is turned in by SEPTEMBER! That’s right, I only have about 8 weeks to create an entire handbook—words and photographs. But I believe I’m up for the challenge. And I know you’ll enjoy it so much, and the pretty photos too!
The book will be launching in Spring 2018, just in time for gardening season! So make sure you keep checking back to see when pre-sales are up. If you aren’t already subscribed to my e-newsletter, that’s a fabulous way to get reminders about what’s happening over here.
Thank you for following my journey. Thank you for cheering me on as I go. Thank you for your love and inspiration.
Thank you…
I’m still working on my Christian living book proposals! Don’t worry. Maybe we’ll tackle that next year 😉
But for now, I write!

Growing and Drying Your Own Herbs

As a new gardener, I often found the task of growing prize winning tomatoes and succulent melons very daunting. Can I say succulent melons here? Get your head out of the gutter!
Gardening has never come naturally to me. But I learn and grow each and every year. I finally began to master tomatoes by the third year of gardening. But I’ve still never mastered the green bean.
It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re gardening, but I’ve found one thing that I can never kill. I suppose I could if I drenched it in chemicals, but ultimately, they’re very forgiving. What is it, you ask? Why, herbs, of course!
Herbs are one of the easiest things in the world to grow and maintain. Not only that, but they are equally as easy to harvest and preserve. Whether you’re drying them once harvested, making a tincture, preserving dried herbs into spice rubs, or simply hanging them until you’re ready to use them. There are plenty of ways to grow and preserve herbs on your homestead.
My favorite way to preserve my herbs is to dry them. This allows me to crush them into powder form, or leave them in a loose form. Either way, I love using them while cooking, making tinctures, creating spice rubs, and more.
But before I dry them, I of course need to grow them!
Oregano
Echinacea
Thyme
Rosemary
Spearmint
Peppermint
Lemon Balm (Melissa)
Cilantro
Dill
Garlic
Lavender

The first part of this list of herbs are extremely easy to grow, harvest, and maintain. Garlic and lavender are a bit harder, but well worth it. Most of these you can even bring inside in the winter months and continue to harvest from them if you choose to grow them in large pots near a sunny space. Garlic never needs to be brought inside. You can see how we plant garlic here.

We love container gardening, so we grow most of our herbs in large pots each year. Some naturally die off and grow back (perennials such as peppermint and lemon balm), while others need to be brought inside and tended to through out the year. Or, the other option is to harvest their seeds in the Summer and replant indoors in the Winter for Spring plants. You can also grow herbs in garden beds, but be sure to do your research, because some herbs—like the mint family—enjoy spreading like wildfire.

 

 

Before You Begin

Whether you’re growing your herbs in containers or in the ground, there are a few things to consider before you get started.

Make sure your soil is healthy and fertilized.
Because nothing grows well in hard dirt that doesn’t have good fertilization. Add some rabbit manure (if you raise rabbits, like us), or buy an organic fertilizer from your local farm store.

Don’t place your herbs in an area that is in direct sunlight all day long.
Some herbs do well (like rosemary and stalky herbs), but most delicate ones do not. In the hot summer months, herbs such as thyme and cilantro (herbs with more delicate leaves) can scorch because they get too hot in direct sunlight all day. Sunlight for half the day is perfect. Indirect sunlight, or partial shade, for the remainder of the day is ideal. Though, there are some that thrive in direct sunlight all day long (denser, oily, or stick like leaves such as lavender and rosemary). Be sure to read the information that comes with the seed package or plant package very carefully before deciding where to permanently place your plants.

Ensure that you have enough space for your plants to grow. For example, don’t grow lemon balm in a garden bed that you need to keep tidy. Herbs like lemon balm and peppermint are expansive, meaning, they grow and spread like wildfire each year when they go to seed. They are “covering” plants, meaning, they cover the ground very well and very quickly. This is a great thing, however, because these types of plants you simply plant once, and then forget about them once they establish a presence in your flower bed. They will be there for years to come!

Research your herbs before ingesting them.
Whether you’re growing herbs to use for culinary purposes, or for medicinal purposes, be sure to do your research first, to make sure they are herbs that you should be using.

Harvesting Your Herbs

A lot of your herbs can be harvested throughout the entire growing season. Herbs like thyme, oregano, and peppermint, will grow for quite some time, even after you’ve harvested from the same plant several times. You can harvest your herbs a few different ways, but always make sure you harvest in the earlier part of the morning, after all the dew has dried up, but before the sun sips away all of the essential oils in the leaves.
The first way to harvest is to cut a portion of the plants almost down to the ground. This gives you a second cutting that will be aromatic, but may not be as woody or full. It also takes longer to grow back in the harvest season. The second option is to only cut the plant part of the way off, about halfway down the plant, This allows the small portion of the plant to continue to grow, giving you multiple harvests, albeit in smaller amounts each harvest.

 

 

Drying Your Herbs

There’s no sense in growing and harvesting herbs if you aren’t going to dry and store them properly. Drying and storing herbs is incredibly easy. The only issue you may run into is the fact that you don’t have enough space for your bountiful harvests!

There are a few different drying methods you can try…

 

Drying in an Oven
More commonly used before the rise of dehydrators in the past few decades, you can easily dry your herbs by putting your oven on the lowest heat setting that it will go (around 180 degrees). Place your herbs on a breathable cookie rack or directly onto the oven racks so that the air flow can remain continuous. Keep the door to your oven slightly ajar, so that there is a constant movement of air in and out of the oven. The length of time will really vary on the herb. I’ve tried Thyme in less than 30 minutes because the leaves are so small and delicate. But it can take an hour or more with more woody herbs, like Rosemary.
Drying with a Dehydrator
More commonly used now, you can find fabulous dehydrators, like the 5 tray Excalibur one that I own, that you’ll make good use of for many things, not just herbs. We use our dehydrator often for things like jerky, fruit leather, drying fruit and veggies, and more. The temperature and time will vary by herb and dehydrator. Make sure you thoroughly read the instructions before beginning. Most herbs will do well around 115 degrees, and will be completely dried when stems become hard and breakable, and leaves fall off when gently tugged.
Drying Herbs in the Sun
We’re gong back to our roots with this one. And yes, I have absolutely dried herbs in the hot summer sunlight, right on my own back deck. Choose a very sunny place that gets sun most of the morning and early afternoon. Lay our your herbs on a flat surface. I laid mine right on my deck. You’ll need to flip them throughout the day, and/or move them with the sun. On an extremely hot summer day, I’ve dried herbs in less than 2 hours. You can read more about sun drying foods in this Mother Earth News article.
Drying Herbs by Hanging or Drying Racks
The most commonly seen technique on places like Pinterest, is hanging your herbs to dry, or to use drying racks. This can take days and even weeks at times to accomplish. And you run into more issues with mold if you aren’t getting proper airflow to your herbs at all times (ex: her bunches are too tight). With that said, this is probably the most common way to dry herbs, and has been for centuries. A lot of people don’t like depending on electricity, or using machinery, to dry their herbs. The most natural way to try them is to dry them in the sun, or to simply dry them on racks or by hanging them. While this takes up a substantial amount of space if you dry in large batches, it most certainly does work.

Storing Your Harvest

Storing your harvest is equally as easy as drying it, if not easier. I really enjoy these little mason jars for my culinary herbs. I found these in the $3 Target bin, but you can find similar ones here. I find that the best way to store my medicinal herbs and herbs that are in large quantities, are to store them in the half gallon mason jars, and then use the plastic screw top lids. You can also purchase chalkboard lids as well.

As long as your herbs are kept in a dark and dry place, in an air tight container, your dried herbs will last up to 18 months or longer, depending on the herb and the environment. As dried herbs age, they do lose their medicinal value. So using up that harvest in the first year is very beneficial to you and your family if you are growing herbs specifically for your medicinal cabinet. Culinary herbs can last an upward of three years when stored properly. Obviously, the quicker they are used, the better they taste, but it’s nice to know you have that option!

You can use fresh or dried herbs to create things like tinctures, salves, lotions, infused oils, and more. But that’s another topic for another day!

I hope you’re enjoying all of the herb posts on our website. Herbalism is such an important skill to learn on a homestead. I hope that we are empowering you by sharing simple tips and knowledge!

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