At Obercreek Farm in Hughsonville, New York (near Poughkeepsie), owners Sam Wildfong and husband Tim Heuer (who happens to be my cousin) have been growing more than 200 varieties of vegetables and herbs on ten acres since 2012. The chemical-free harvest finds its way into the farm’s CSA boxes, which offer subscribers from eight to 10 varieties a week during a 22-week season.
Recently I went for a visit and a lesson in how to process herbs–by drying or making tinctures or infused oils–to make natural remedies. Read on for step-by-step instructions for how to process calendula flowers into an herbal oil used as a natural remedy for its anti-inflammatory properties and to heal wounds. (N.B.: For more about calendula oil’s medicinal properties, see Memorial Sloan Kettering.
But first, a tour of the farm:
Photography by Meredith Heuer for Gardenista.
Above: Here’s Sam Wildfong up in her herb drying studio.
Above: Different kinds of herbs require different preservation techniques. The best way to dry lavender is in bunches, hung by the stems in the rafters.
Above: Sam pulls the leaves from dried Tulsi plants. The dried leaves will make a great tea mixed with other herbs, such as mint or chamomile, or on their own.
Above: The many benefits of eating garlic are widely known. Sam mixes garlic with mullein in organic olive oil to make a solution to heal ear infections.
Above: Echinacea grows extremely well in the Hudson Valley and makes a powerful tincture to build up the immune system against flus and colds.
Above: Fresh yarrow leaves are used to stop bleeding wounds, to treat gastrointestinal problems and high fevers, and to improve circulation. Chewing on fresh leaves will relieve toothaches. Scientists have credited yarrow with wide-ranging health benefits.
Above: Calendula flowers, ready to be processed into a healing oil. (N.B.: Starting next year, Wildfong and Heuer will begin selling calendula oil at their farm store and will include it in CSA shares.)
Above: To make calendula oil, harvest flowers–including their sticky green calyxes–and chop (for the sake of the photo, I may not have chopped it up quite as much as I should).
Add chopped flowers to olive oil (100 grams calendula to 300 ml olive oil) and heat the mixture to from 110 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (a slow cooker is great for this). Maintain temperature for 1 week.
Above: Strain out the flower material through a colander.
Above: Then pour the liquid through a second, finer strainer.
Above: And finally, through a cheesecloth.
Above: The final product is as rich, golden oil that can be slathered on the skin to treat conjunctivitis, eczema, minor burns including sunburns.