Tuesday, August 25, 2015

High and Dried

Within the curious world of the beauty industry, "dry" can be a bad thing. Some skin is naturally dry and some becomes dry with age. Ergo, the beauty industry offers a myriad of products which can keep this issue at bay. Hundreds of moisturizers line the shelves ranging in price from $8.99 for Neutrogena's Oil-Free Moisturizer Pink Grapefruit to over $1,000 for 111Skin's Celestial Black Diamond Night Cream (admit it, we all want bling in our moisturizer). But, as I've found through my short bit of research, what we put in our bodies seems to gave a greater effect than what we put on our bodies. Not that I'm a fan of chemically laden beauty products. Typically, I try to use the most natural products possible (read: baking soda, olive oil, honey- I should expect to find a cake in my bathtub soon). But when I need to use an antiperspirant (see Antiperspirants, Alternatives) or the Pantene shampoo in my yoga studio, I know I'm not doing myself too much harm. But what we put in our bodies seems to have a significant effect on our health. In this regard, water can be one of the best things we consume. It hydrates us, helps to regulate our appetites and energize our muscles, according to WebMD. And in the realm of water-based drinks (read: teas, coffees and tisanes- the snob's version of herbal tea) the process of drying summer's bounty to preserve it for the cold winter months can be a good thing.

Precious rose petals.

Recently, Into the Gloss featured an article entitled, "ITG's Best Water Tips". One tidbit of advice came from singer Domino Kirke who stated that, "I have chronic dry skin. I went to a dermatologist and found out it was more about hydration, like drinking water. I was putting on the most expensive, thick, goopy stuff but it just wasn't sticking. I feel best when my skin is soft." While somewhat intuitive, the beauty industry can bamboozle us into thinking we need four-figure night creams when water may do the trick. Again, what we put in our bodies can be more effective than what we put on our bodies. So following this axiom, I try to drink a lot of water or (because I'm often a little attention-deficit when it comes to flavors) I drink a lot of tea. Adding flavor to water (in the form of tea and tisanes) can also boost its health quotient. A little dried cinnamon bark can add healing effects to muscle spasms, vomiting or even the loss of appetite. A few dried juniper berries can help to ease an upset stomach or even urinary tract infections. And adding a few dried, green tea leaves to water can lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar and raise your IQ (just kidding, but it is good for blood flow and, by proxy, your brain). And while adding "flavor" to your water can be good for your health, adding ingredients that are flavorful and homegrown can be good for your wallet. Thus, a few key ingredients I am currently harvesting and drying with the intention of adding them to my hot, winter teas.

Red Clover: Red Clovers are somewhat ubiquitous throughout Connecticut. Indeed, they grow in Hardiness Zones 4 or warmer (which is essentially most of the country). Upon my herbal education at Flower Power this summer, I learned clovers possess proteins and can even reduce pre-menstrual symptoms in women, perhaps prompting Joan Jett's classic combination: Crimson and Clover. To dry, simply cut several clovers cleanly with a sharp blade leaving about three to four inches of stem intact (in terms of cutting, just like humans prefer to have a Band-Aid ripped off instead of slowly removed, it's generally better to cut plants quickly and neatly). Once you've cut the number of clovers you wish to dry, gather the stems and tie together with gardener's twine. Place clovers in indirect sunlight for about six hours when the dog days of summer heat hit around 85-95 degrees. To use, simply place dried ingredients in a tea ball and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Clovers can also add complexity to your favorite white wine.

 Crimson... clovers.

Rose Petals: I bought a rose bush this summer which promptly died... and then spawned several roses. These roses, in my mind, are a super-breed of flora which "rose" like a phoenix from the ashes to spread its powerful DNA. But even if you don't indulge in such personal delusions like myself, rose petals are actually good for you. High in antioxidants, rose petals can also boost the amount of vitamin C in a dish or lend usage as a remedy for digestive disorders, according to Livestrong.com. Like red clovers, the petals can also be used to treat menstrual cramps and, like clovers, you can dry them in much the same way. Simply pluck each petal from its corresponding stem and place in a bowl to dry (cover your bowl with Saran Wrap if you want extra protection from having your petals blow away in the wind). Leave petals in direct or indirect sunlight for several hours until they've reduced in size and will crumble between your fingers. To use, place petals in a tea diffuser and let steep in hot water.

Dry my pretties. 

Basil: While I may not add a lot of basil to my teas, I have a lot in my garden and love to add it to my dressings. In addition to lending a kick of spice to foods, basil also carries, "antioxidant and antibacterial qualities," according to WebMD. And while fresh basil can be used to make basil oil in the summer, preserved, dried basil can be used in dressings throughout the winter or added to boost the flavor of soups. To dry, simply cut the leaves of basil so that a small amount of the stem remains. Wash, dry and tie together basil leaves in a bunch (using a rubber band may be more helpful than gardener's twine in this situation). Unlike red clovers and rose petals, basil can be dried within the confines of your home, out of direct sunlight. Simply hang basil leaves so that air is able to circulate around it. Within two weeks, your basil should be dried and ready to store.

Basil galore... to be dried and stored.

So there you have it. A series of plants which can be preserved and added to hot water in the cold winter months. Not only will they add flavor, they will impart health benefits to an already positive habit of drinking (water). And, if you need ideas as to where to store your newly dried goodies, of course I'm going to suggest glass bottles. Enjoy!

Dried rose petals and clovers in glass.

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