Sunday, October 25, 2009

Abundant Neem Harvest at the Herb Farm and What I'm Doing With All of It

I spent another Saturday at Maggie's Herb Farm in St. Augustine teaching an advanced soapmaking class for Creating Shampoo Bars and Spa/Salt Soaps. The class itself when very well. I had some mild anxiety on the way up that I had maybe not packed all the ingredients that we needed, but everything was packed and it was a very smooth class.

The last time I was at the farm I finally noticed that there was a huge neem tree in one of the large green houses. When I talked to the owner on Thursday before the class, I asked her if I could harvest some for myself. She sounded very excited about the prospect and told me have her employee help me harvest it so that the branches would no longer be threatening to poke a hole through the top of the green house. So during our lunch break Julie climbed right up the tree and took down about 15 large branches that really needed to be pruned while I assisted. After our lunch break I brought some of the branches into class and we filled up jars with neem leaves and other herbs to make an apple cider vinegar based deodorant spray. Later, my husband helped me carry the cumbersome bundle into the house, I asked him how much he thought it was. He estimated 35 pounds. The weight of it had thrown him off balance, and I actually think maybe it was even more than that.

I'm in day three of processing all the neem. Saturday night I laid out two trays of leaves to dry, put up a quart of leaf in tincture, a quart of leaf in oil to cold infuse, a basket full of bark to dry, and a basket full of twigs to dry. Today I need to strip the rest of the bark from the large branches.

This is my first neem leaf harvest, though I have been growing baby neem trees in Central Florida for the last two years and using neem oil in my products and garden. I have read that dried neem leaves are helpful for repelling insects and can be added to dried rice, beans, and other dried herbs. The neem leaf is highly medicinal and is used for a various skin conditions such as foot fungus, psoriasis, scabies, acne, allergic reactions, small pox, chicken pox, and eczema. I'm preparing the leaf tincture to use as described in Natural Medicine in the Tropics by Hans Martin Hirt, which is to mix the leaf tincture together with vegetable oil for application as an ointment. I will likely use the infused leaf oil together with the tincture. I generally prefer to infuse herbs in oil on the stove top, but from what I understand the medicinal properties of the neem leaves are best extracted cold, so I simply will let them sit in my Extra Virgin Olive oil/ Coconut oil solution for a few weeks and then strain and decant. The jar of leaves and oil was very bubbly and oozing yesterday morning. Neem bark and twigs are particularly useful in dental care for keeping gums healthy. The dried bark I plan to grind in herbal friend's hammermill for use in tooth powder, and I may even put up some bark in alcohol to make an extract for application to gums today as well. I will be cutting up the little twigs into tooth-pick sized pieced for dental care as well.

I have more classes coming up at Maggies Herb farm in November and December. You can call the farm to preregister 904-829-0722:

Herbal Aromatics! Natural Incense & Perfumery Class.
Saturday November 14th 10:00 AM-2:00 PM
Join us for an introduction to incense and natural perfumery. We will be making all natural cone incense with dried herbs and resins, as well as a room spray, cologne, and solid perfumes with pure essential oils. Learn the properties of various essential oils and how to combine them to repel pests, freshen a room, and more. We will be working with a variety of dried herbs including those available at the farm including Lemon Verbena, Lemon grass, and Patchouli. Bring a sack lunch $45

Herbal Bath & Body Holiday Stocking Stuffers Class!
Saturday December 12th 10:30– 2:30
Join us for a fun-filled day of sipping herb-mulled cider and creating herbal holiday gifts for friends and family. We will be making 4 sets of stocking stuffers with each gift bag including: 2 Peppermint and 2 Cinnamon stick lip balms in old fashioned metal slide tins, 4 Herb-infused Winter Dry Skin Shea butter balms infused with fresh picked herbs, and 4 sets of herbal bath teas. We will also make herbal decorations with fresh Rosemary to take home for ourselves! Bring a sack lunch. $40.00

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