Herbal Infused Oils & Vinegars

It’s often surprising, especially to new gardeners, just how much you can harvest from a couple of herb plants. With relatively little effort you can have tons of basil, rosemary, oregano, and more. This time of year you’ll need to figure out how to preserve your herbs if you want to keep using them this winter. One simple, flavorful way to preserve herbs is to create infused oils and vinegars.


Herbal vinegars are excellent for homemade salad dressings and marinades or for sprinkling over sauteed or roasted vegetables. I love sautéed swiss chard with a splash of garlic vinegar.

You can use any type of vinegar you have on hand. Personally, apple cider vinegar and white wine vinegar are my favorites. You can also use whatever herbs you desire. I love sage, tarragon, garlic, basil, lemon balm, and dill.

To make you vinegar, loosely pack your herbs into a clean, glass jar. Bruising them a bit with a spoon can help bring out the flavor. Then cover your herbs with vinegar. Try to make sure all the herbs are fully submerged before putting a lid on your jar.

Allow your vinegar to steep in a cool, dark place for at least one week. After one week you can taste your vinegar to see if you like the flavor. If it isn’t strong enough you can let it continue to steep. It could take up to three weeks.


Herbal infused oils have been used as both food like basil oil and medicine like calendula oil. Like herbal vinegars, they make great homemade salad dressings and are also delicious for dipping fresh bread in.

To create herbal oils you’ll want a high-quality vegetable-based oil. Olive oil is my favorite but sunflower or other oil would work as well.

Traditionally, fresh herbs would be placed in a jar and covered with oil. They’d be left to steep somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight for several weeks. However, modern food safety experts recommend against this practice as fresh herbs and oil could create botulism.

If you want to use fresh herbs try gently heating them in the oil to impart their flavor more quickly than steeping them. Your oil can then be strained and safely stored in the fridge or freezer.

Alternatively, you can eliminate the risk of botulism by drying your herbs before steeping them. Using dry herbs you can cover them with oil and allow them to steep for about two weeks before straining them.

Herbal infused oils and vinegars are great, simple ways to store the season’s flavor. They also make excellent gifts for the culinary enthusiasts in your life!

Herbal Tinctures: Goldenrod

Just before we get to enjoy the beautiful colors of fall foliage the land gives us its last summer show. Wildflowers like ironweed, Joe Pye weed, and goldenrod bloom in abundance. In some we can find more than just beauty. Goldenrod is a wonderful medicinal herb that’s best harvested while in bloom.

Medicinal Usage

Goldenrod was first used in herbal medicine by Native Americans. Topically goldenrod has been used on toothaches, burns, sores, and infections. Internally it’s often used to treat digestive, respiratory, or urinary ailments. Recent research has shown that goldenrod teas and tinctures may be effective at preventing and treating UTIs and kidney stones in particular.

Identifying Goldenrod

There dozens of species of goldenrod, 38 in Virginia alone! Identifying individual species can be tough even for experts. However, all goldenrod species have similar properties and can be used medicinally so it’s okay if you’re not sure exactly what species you’ve got.

However, you do want to make sure you do have goldenrod. Some similar looking species like ragwort are toxic. Goldenrods have a woody stem. Though the leaf shape may differ from species to species, typically leaves are tapered to the tip. Leaves are generally larger near the base of the plant. They often have a hairy or rough underside and have parallel veins. Their tiny yellow flowers grow on an inflorescence (like a plume) at the top of the plant. Many have multiple inflorescences.

If you’re unsure about identifying goldenrod plan to forage with a knowledgeable friend. You can also check a wildflower field guide or the Ohio Perennial and Biennial Weed Guide for more detailed information.


To harvest goldenrod you want to catch it as the flowers have just started blooming. Select plants that look healthy and free of mildew and disease. Bring along a pair of scissors and snip off the plume of flowers. It’s okay to get some leaves they can be used too.

Avoid harvesting an entire patch. Bees and other native wildlife rely on species like goldenrod as they get ready for winter.

Making Tincture

To make a tincture all you’ll need is alcohol (at least 80 proof or 40%), a glass jar with a lid, and your goldenrod blooms. If you don’t have goldenrod near you you can also purchase and use dried goldenrod. If you don’t want to use alcohol you can substitute in vegetable glycerin.

Roughly chop up your blooms and place them in a glass jar. Then cover them with alcohol. Most people like to use vodka because it doesn’t have much flavor but you can use what ever you’ve got on hand. I’m using rum for this tutorial.

Push the flowers down if needed. You don’t have to pack them in super tight but you want to make sure that they’re completely covered with alcohol otherwise they could mold.

Place the lid on and let your tincture sit in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 4 weeks before using. If you’re using dried goldenrod, shake your jar each day for the first couple of weeks to ensure the herbs absorb the alcohol and don’t just float on top. You can keep your tincture just like this for months or you can strain out the blooms when you’re ready to use it.

You can use this method (the folk method) to tincture a number of herbs including lemon balm, mint, echinacea, calendula, goldenseal, ginseng, and more.

Using Your Tincture

Always consult a physician before using your tinctures to treat any medical condition. Start with trying a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon before taking a lot. To make it taste a bit better you can mix it with honey.

Making Tea

You can also make tea from fresh or dried goldenrod. About 2 tablespoons of fresh flowers or about 1 tablespoon of dried flowers will make a cup of tea. Steep your tea for 10-15 minutes.

Drying Goldenrod

To dry your goldenrod for later you can spread roughly chopped blooms on a screen to air dry or dry them in a dehydrator on the herb setting. Store in an airtight container out of direct sunlight. It will last about a year.


***This article is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a physician before using these to treat any conditions.***

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds & History

If you grow sunflowers the garden looks a little extra magical this time of year! There’s just something special about these big flowers that follow the sun. Today, they are a popular crop for home gardeners and rank among the world’s most important oil crops but they’ve got a really long and interesting past too.


Sunflowers were first cultivated by Native Americans. Some archeologists believe that they may have been grown in what’s now Arizona and New Mexico as early as 3000 BC. The seeds were an important food source and were used in a variety of ways including for grinding into flour, mixing with other vegetables, and squeezing for oil.

Sometimes sunflowers like the Hopi Dye Sunflower were also used to create dye for textiles, baskets, and body painting. They were also used medicinally and the stalks were sometimes utilized as building materials. 

To Europe and Back

When Europeans came to America they quickly brought the sunflower back to Europe (probably around 1500). It was primarily grown as an ornamental until it became popular in Russia as an oil crop. During the early 1800s, it was commercially cultivated in Russia with more than 2 million acres planted each year and new varieties being bred.  

Some of these new varieties like Mammoth made their way back to the United States to be featured in seed catalogs by 1880 and are still around today. They were most likely brought to the U.S. by Russian immigrants. In the early 1900s, sunflowers quickly gained popularity as oil and silage (animal feed) crops in the United States and Canada along with their ornamental use in the home garden.

Eating Sunflowers

As the title of this post suggests, sunflowers are a wonderful edible flower. It’s not just their seeds that are edible either. Very young plants as well as sunflower sprouts are excellent in salads and wraps. The flower petals, though they can be a bit bitter can also be used sparingly in salads to brighten things up or as natural decorations for cakes. 

The leaves and stalk can also be eaten. When harvested young and peeled the stalk is a bit like celery. The leaves should be steamed or cooked like other greens before eating to destroy irritating hairs. Unopened flower buds can be cooked and used like artichokes.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

When to Harvest

Sunflowers are best harvested when they’ve fully matured. The plant’s foliage should be yellow and the back of the flower should be yellow or brown. The petals should have fallen off and the seeds should be plump and developed their dark or striped coloring. Harvesting too early when the plant is still alive and the seeds are light-colored will probably result in immature seed.

In order to get your sunflowers to mature this long, you may need to provide them with a bit of protection. They’re a favorite of birds, squirrels, and other small animals so you may need to wrap the flower heads in mesh or cover them with mesh bags to deter wildlife. Don’t use solid plastic bags. The material should be perforated or breathable or the flower head may rot.


Cut the flower heads, leaving about 4-6 inches of stalk. Cover the flower heads with paper bags and hang them somewhere cool and dry for 1-2 weeks or until the seeds are fully dry and mature. They can also be laid out on screens if you have the space to set something up.

At this point, you can either separate the seeds or leave them on the head. Sunflowers can be hung outdoors for birds to enjoy through the winter or hung in your chicken coop for them to enjoy. 

Rub the seeds off the flower head and lay flat to dry for an additional day. Then they can be stored in airtight containers out of direct sunlight. They’re ready to plant next year or roast for a tasty snack!

Saving the Past for the Future