The most conventional way to use herbs is, of course, in the kitchen. A sprig of parsley for garnish, diced chives on potatoes, or mint leaves in cocktails, herbs are well known for adding flavor to cooking and sweets.
But that’s not all you can do. Here are some more uses you might not have tried yet.
Create Your Own Custom Spice Blend
Dry your parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, rosemary and sage, whatever you’ve got. For less Italian flavor, simply leave out the thyme, or replace with lemon thyme. Strip the herbs from the stems, grind them up in a blender cup, or coffee grinder, and combine in an herb shaker. Mix with a good sea salt for an all-purpose blend. This makes a great gift come holidays, and saves money on spices throughout the year. Your cooking will taste better, too.
Make Your Own Conditioning Hair Rinse
I’ll have some tips soon about going shampoo-free. But if you’ve already done so, try making your own vinegar rinse. Pick fresh lavender, rosemary and basil, stuff them in gallon jug of vinegar, and leave in a warm, shady place for about a week. Shake daily. Strain off the liquid into a new container and use half a cup, twice a week, to rinse and condition your hair in the shower.
Freshen Your Vacuum Bag or Water
Just crumble some lavender or other extremely fragrant herb and drop it on your carpet. Use about a quarter cup’s worth. Run the vacuum over it and the brushes will break up the aroma and freshen the entire system. It also helps clean the air that circulates back out of the contraption. You can also put some essential oil on a cotton ball and vacuum it if your herbs are out of season.
Use Herb Branches for Fire-Starter
We keep bundles of dry lavender, sage and rosemary sticks, anything else we come across during harvest. In early winter when the holidays come around, the smell of herbs used as kindling in the woodstove creates a sweet and mild natural incense. If you don’t harvest your lavender or other plants, but let them grow well into fall, you need to trim them back anyway to keep your plants healthy. Instead of composting, save the sticks and have a nice fire with them, even if it’s outdoors in the garden or on the patio. In the summer, burning herbs outdoors on a barbecue or smoker can keep the bugs away.
Make a Fragrant Flower Blend for Hens
If you spoil your birds, you’ll love this idea. Cut some calendula or dandelions, lavender, mint, rosemary or sage, anything you have growing in excess, and just toss it in the egg box on top of your straw or sawdust. Rumor has it the hens find flowers in their nest to be calming and pleasing, encouraging them to lay in their egg box and not seek hidden nests – but my girls don’t seem to be persuaded just yet. Only spring will tell.
Create Your Own Salad Dressing
Grind some dry herbs and put them in olive or avocado oil. Cut some fresh herbs and put them in good vinegar, no need to dry them if they’re going in vinegar, water or alcohol. If adding to oil, make sure they are good and dry or it could spoil. Add smashed cloves of garlic or dried onion if you like, and get creative. Keep each jar in a warm place for about a week, and then taste. Keep shaking daily until you’re satisfied with the flavor, you can add more dry herbs as needed. When it tastes done, strain the oil through a piece of cheesecloth, or a mesh strainer for a chunkier dressing. Do the same with the vinegar, or simply leave the herb in there because it looks nice. I throw a few chive and calendula flowers in my salad vinegar and leave it in a mason jar, it looks quite pretty. Use about a tablespoon each of oil and vinegar per serving, mix well, and toss on a salad or coleslaw. I go heavy on the chive to make a ranch or a coleslaw dressing, or heavy on the thyme to make Italian dressing. The nice thing about this method is you can make as much dressing as you need far cheaper, and it will taste just how you like it.
Craft Old Victorian Lavender Wands
Not hard, but it certainly takes practice to get a polished look. This job is best done with the help of a video tutorial. We don’t have one, but lots of folks do. Find one that makes sense to you and go with it. As long as it’s nice and tight at the finish, it doesn’t much matter how you start. But be sure to begin with an odd number of sticks, though, otherwise the weaving won’t work out. Play around with different widths of ribbon, or use hemp or jute to make something you can easily burn as a ceremonial torch.
Make a Bug Repellent
Most people are unaware of yarrow’s many uses around the house, including as a bug repellent. You can infuse it in vinegar, vodka or plain water. If you choose water, use a highly purified or distilled water if you want it to store a long time. I find the vinegar to be too strong for my liking, so I infuse my yarrow in cheap vodka for an extra long time to get a strong aroma and deep color, then I’ll strain off the liquid. It will keep for ages this way in a dark cupboard. To use as bug repellent, I fill my spray bottle with half yarrow-alcohol and half regular water, which makes the perfect strength body spray for repelling flies and mosquitoes. Yarrow grows just about everywhere, including fields, ditches and roadsides.
Make Your Own Laundry Softener
Many of us are using vinegar in the rinse instead of commercial fabric softener. Plain white vinegar works great as a rinse aid. Essential oils make it smell nice, but that can get expensive fast. Have you thought of infusing your vinegar with herbs and flowers from the garden first? Throw in lavender, rosemary, cornflower, mint, lemon thyme, lemon balm, rose petals – anything from your garden that is fragrant and safe for the skin. Avoid sweet smelling blooms like lilac and lily unless you’re sure it won’t irritate you. It’s safest to stick with edible flowers and herbs. The easy way to infuse in vinegar: Take a brand new jug and pour half into an empty jug. Fill both half-jugs with fresh flowers, no need to dry them for this. Leave in a warm, shady place for a few days, shaking often. When the scent suits your liking and the liquid changes color, strain it off into another empty vinegar jug. To get the flowers out of the first jugs, I take a blade and cut the top off just above the handle. Dump out the flowers and save the jugs. These make excellent scoops for grain and for liquid fertilizers in the garden all summer long.
Burn Lavender as Incense
This is one of my favorites. Commercial incense is overwhelming on the senses, and it leaves a heavy residue on the walls, as well. Once dried, lavender sticks can be cut to about six inches and put in your incense burner like any other stick. Light a half-inch of the flower head at a time, it will clean the air of unwanted odors and it will smolder out after each lighting. The ash turns white and there’s no heavy residue, just hints of what I call lavender woodfire. Go all out and make a lovely seasonal smudge stick by wrapping twine around stems of lavender, rosemary and sage, let it dry, then light the end and carry around the house. Perfect for the change of seasons and spring cleaning.
There are countless ways to use herbs around the home, I could go on for days. Sometimes we stumble on them purely by accident. I’d love to hear some of your unconventional uses for household herbs, too!