If you enjoy making simple, effective beauty and health products, having a smallholder business making herbal products could be right for you.
Smallholders who are looking to make extra income from their plots ~ and who isn’t? ~ can look to their herb gardens for a value-added business.
Depending on what you are going to do with the herbs, you will need certain equipment. A blender or processor is useful, along with funnels, sieves or a colander.
If you need jars or bottles recycle what you already have, rather than buy new ones. Friends are usually only too happy to collect their bottles for you as well. You will need to wash the bottles and lids in very hot soapy water, or better still, in a dishwasher. Then sterilise them by pouring a little water in each and putting them in the microwave for five minutes. Dry them upside down in a warm oven. Boil the lids.
Most herbs dry easily. You can tie them in a bunch and hang them in a warm, dry and dark room. The kitchen is probably not the best place as there is condensation there.
If you are drying roots, wash them well and chop them up while still fresh. You can dry them in an oven at 1000 for 2-3 hours. Leave them in a warm, dry spot until they are completely dry. Flowers and leaves can also be dried like this if you are in a hurry.
Herbal Teas To Make
Dried herbs are ideal for teas. Remove the stems and chop the herbs to a fine, regular size that can be used in tea pots or in submersible strainers.
You can also make your own blends of herbs for teas. For a relaxing blend experiment with combinations of basil, chamomile flowers, lavender, lemon balm, pelargonium, marjoram or St John’s wort.
An “energy” tea that helps focus, stamina and energy can be just what someone is seeking to help with productivity ~ try basil, chickweed, rosemary or sage. There are many local books and websites available, do some research.
You are only limited by your imagination (and your herb planting) in terms of the teas that you can offer. They don’t all have to be medicinal. You can blend herbs purely for taste, to influence mood, or to promote health.
Provide instructions on how to make the infusions. We use just boiled water to make herbal tea, not vigorously boiling water which affects the valuable oils in the herbs. Generally for 500mls water we use 30g dried herbs. Put the herbs in a tea pot, pour water over them and leave for 10 minutes to infuse. If you are only making one cup, use a teaspoon of herbs.
A tincture is more potent than an infusion and it lasts longer. Making herbal tinctures can seem complex, but it really is quite simple. You take 200g dried herbs or 600g fresh herbs, chop it. Place the herb in a large bottle, cover it in 1 litre of alcohol – vodka works well, cover, shake regularly, and let it steep in a cool, dark place for about two weeks.
Then strain the tincture into a bowl. You can wrap the herbs in cheesecloth and twist it to squeeze the last of the tincture out. It will help to use a funnel when you pour it into dark glass bottles. It’s that easy. Herbal tinctures are used for many chronic and acute health complaints. The standard dose is 5ml, three times a day, taken diluted in water. Again you need to research the medicinal effects of the herbs that you have or that you need to plant.
Make Herbal Bath Products
Herbal bath products can help improve skin, reduce stress, open up the lungs, and relax one. You can use all kinds of herbs in your bath blends, but some favourites include chamomile, lavender, rosemary, tea tree, eucalyptus, lemon balm, sage and calendula.
To make a bath blend, you will harvest and dry herbs as though for tea. Blend them as for tea as well, and offer herbal sachets or bags to hold the dried herbs in the water so that they don’t clog the drain. A very warm, ten-minute soak or longer will provide the benefits of the herbs absorbed through the skin and inhaled via hot steam
Herbal oils are made by steeping the plant material in oil. Infused oils are not as concentrated as essential oils and are much easier to make. They can be used as massage oils or as culinary oils.
There are two ways to make oil infusions. For the cold version you simply pack a sterilised bottle with dried or fresh herbs and cover them with oil. You can use good old sunflower oil or olive oil, or you can try jojoba oil, almond oil, coconut oil (popular with the Banting brigade), grape seed oil or flax seed oil. Obviously these are much more expensive.
Seal your bottle and leave in a sunny spot for 2-3 weeks. Strain the mixture into a jug, before pouring into a bottle and sealing. For a stronger flavour, you can use the infused oil to pour over a new batch of herbs to steep for another 2-3 weeks.
A quicker version of oil infusion is to use heat. Take 1.5 parts fresh herb or 1 part dried herb to 2 parts oil and mix them together in a double boiler, heating them gently for about three hours. Strain the mixture into a jug and pour into a sterilised, airtight glass bottle.
And lastly, you can make herbal vinegars. You may use any vinegar – white wine, red wine, white spirit or apple cider, remembering that they each have their own distinctive flavour. There are many herbs to choose from and you can use combinations of herbs and even add spices if you so desire.
You will need 1 litre wine vinegar (or multiples thereof, depending on how many bottles you want to make), 250mls fresh herbs per litre of vinegar (e.g. thyme, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, basil) and sterilised battles.
Heat the vinegar in a glass jug in the microwave for two minutes or until it is just warm. Rinse the herbs, pat dry and place in a glass jar or directly into the bottles. Pour the vinegar over. Seal and stand for about two weeks, then strain into a clean bottle, seal and label. A fresh sprig of the relevant herb can be placed in the bottle at this final stage.
Herbed vinegar can be used whenever plain vinegar is called for. You can also use it in cooking in place of wine, fruit juice, lemon or lime juice. It can be added to bottled sauces, marinades and homemade mustard recipes. Use it to make salad dressing: one part vinegar to two or three parts olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Small bottles of homemade herbed vinegar make lovely gifts, so seek out pretty bottles.
Certain herbed vinegars are very effective as insect repellents. There is an old story about the Vinegar of the Four Thieves: during the great plague, four men were arrested for robbing the houses of the dead. It was decided that they would be forced to bury the dead and if they did not succumb to the plague, they would be set free. One of them was a herbalist and he made a tincture using vinegar and lavender, peppermint, rosemary, sage and wormwood. They rubbed the mixture on their skin and apparently cheated the Black Death. It can be made today and used externally to prevent insect bites.
To receive all our notices and each edition of SA Smallholder register here.