It’s a talent, an art, a lifestyle. And no one embodies it more than Pat Harpell, notable herbalist and garden enthusiast. Harpell, who founded the South Carolina Herbal Society, guides others to treat their bodies better through the food they consume and the products they use. “The more vibrant foods you eat, the more vibrant you will be,” she said. “We can use nature to be well.”
Pat visited the garden to teach an adult class on herbal infused oils and vinegars for culinary uses. She also is well versed in making medicinal concoctions. “We must be alive and working with nature,” she told participants as the morning began.
To begin the infusion process, materials must be harvested to put in the oil or vinegar. Pat offers the following guidelines when harvesting from the wild.
-Harvest where no spraying has occurred
-Harvest away from electrical wires/cell towers
-Harvest away from roads to avoid run off
-Harvest only what you will use, 25% of a patch at the most
-Give thanks when you harvest for what nature has provided
-Leave something in its place—a hair or spirit tobacco.
When you have collected the plants that you desire, think about pairings that you would like to make and what you would use the infusions for in your recipes. This is a very intuitive process—put together what smells good and what you like to eat. For those that like more specific combinations, the following are flavored vinegar combinations that work well:
-White pine needles in warmed apple cider vinegar
-Tarragon and lemon in white wine vinegar
-Chives, basil, and parsley in white wine vinegar
-Oregano, rosemary, and thyme in red wine vinegar
-Lemon and dill in cider vinegar
-Garlic, chives blossoms, and chervil in red wine vinegar
-Cilantro, jalapeño pepper, and lime in white distilled vinegar (this one is hot!)
-Lavender blossoms in red wine vinegar
-Ginger root and cilantro in rice wine vinegar
Oils can also be used in a variety of recipes, as well as a massage or baby oil. The following list of plants work well with oil and create versatile solutions:
-Hungarian wax pepper
-Variety of flowers
These are some oils that can be used for successful infusions:
-Rice bran oil
Glassware should be use to to store the infusions. Plastic allows air to get in and can compromise the quality of your oil/vinegar. It is extremely important to sterilize the jars and remove all the moisture. Pat recommends using an oven to dry them and to avoid wiping them out with a cloth that could leave fibers and germs behind. She encouraged people to be creative with their choices and to reuse old glass containers as much as possible.
Pat offered the following infusion techniques for oil infusions from the South Carolina Herbal Society.
-Cold infusion method: Combine herbs and oil. You can puree the herbs to disperse their flavor more efficiently, but this will not result in as pretty of a display. After this, store it in a refrigerator.
-Solar method: For this method, place the herbs in a jar and cover to the brim of the jar. Put the jar in the sun and shake every few days for three weeks.
-Warm infusion method: This method utilizes a double boiler. Combine herbs and oil and infuse over the simmering water for fifteen minutes. Never cook or fry the herbs! Remove from heat and strain through cheesecloth or an old t-shirt. Store this infusion in the refrigerator and use with in 1 week.
-Oven method: For this technique, put herbs in an over proof glad measuring cup and cover them with oil. Put the container in a pie plate and place in the oven for 6 hours at 250 degrees. Again, be careful that you are not just deep frying the herbs. Remove, cool, strain, and store in a refrigerator for use within a month.
Vinegars are much simpler—if that’s even possible considering how easy the oils are. Simply fill the jar with vinegar until it covers your infusion material by one inch. If the material keeps floating, you must fill it up to the very, very top (even if it overflows) so that there is as little air as possible when sealed. It is also very important that you put wax paper or parchment paper over the jar before screwing on the top of the jar. This prevents the reaction of vinegar and metal which causes rust and potentially botulism.
That’s all there is to it! Although it can seem daunting at the beginning, get out there and experiment with combinations and infusion techniques.
If you’re interested in learning more about Pat’s work and the South Carolina Herbal Society, visit their website and subscribe to the email newsletter. If you need some sites to purchase bottles or herbs, Pat recommends growing your own as the best strategy or buying from Birch Bottle, Jean’s Greens, or Mountain Rose Herbs.
Come visit the garden for another one of Pat’s amazing classes on integrating herbs into your landscape on Saturday, September 23rd from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Moore Farms Botanical Garden. Visit our website to find out more!
By Roberta Burns.