Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Teas, Please! New York Herb Farmer Teaches Herb-Drying Techniques for Making Teas in Southern Colombia

The completed drying house
For nearly 3 weeks this past November, Matthias Reisen of Healing Spirits Herb Farm & Education Center in Avoca, NY, worked alongside staff and interns at Amazon World Ecological Park (Parque Ecologico Mundo Amazonico) in the municipality of Leticia, Colombia. Rafael Clavijo, owner of the 29-hectare park that is home to over 300 native plant species, requested training from Mr. Reisen in herb and fruit dehydration techniques for producing teas, as well as advice on tea packaging. Mr. Clavijo's goal is to produce dried teas and other herbal products from fruits and aromatic plants grown within the park grounds, and to sell them to park visitors who have expressed interest.

After discussing various options for drying in such a humid, rainy environment and confirming an appropriate placement for a drying structure, the team sourced and purchased the necessary construction materials and got to work assembling the structure. The result: a 2-sided drying house, each side consisting of 4, 3x18 foot shelves, complete with plastic covering on the roof and sides and screened doors for ventilation and pest protection.

Tea formulation was the next topic of discussion, and after some training the team successfully put together a 5-ingredient blend using herbs from the park. They harvested the aromatics, placed them in the drying house, and Mr. Reisen demonstrated how to process the dried herbs by hand. Finally, Mr. Reisen led a training on using herbs to infuse oils, which can then be used to make other natural products. The team put their new skills to practice, combining infused oil with locally-produced beeswax to develop a salve.

Herbs set to dry inside the drying house
Amazon World Ecological Park, which opened its doors in 2011, is a touristic venture with a mission to preserve the natural and cultural riches of the Amazon Region. It was the recipient of the 2011 Venture Award, which recognizes the best environmental experiences in the Amazon, in the category of Sustainable Use of Biodiversity. The 29-hectare park is home to 300 native plant species. Located only 15 minutes from the city of Leticia, the park makes the jungle accessible to those who do not have the time or means to travel. The park offers a botanical garden with 100-year-old trees, Amazonian vegetables, flowers, fruits, and medicinal plants, as well as a sensory experience where the visitor comes in contact with the vegetation, samples aromatic beverages and learns their properties, and learns about the lifestyles and traditions of the zone's indigenous communities. Through these offerings, the park promotes a sustainable relationship between man and nature.

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