Herbal Finishing Salts and White Sage

How to prepare herb-infused finishing salts from Blog Castanea

 

Text and Photographs by Juliet Blankespoor

It has been almost a year since I have added to this blog, as I have been working on my forthcoming book on Cultivating Medicinal Herbs! I am hoping to release the book this spring, and self-publish through a crowd funding campaign. Additionally, I am preparing a distance-learning program on growing and enjoying medicinal and culinary herbs. Both the book and the course contain scrumptious herbal and wild foods recipes. I have spent the last growing season videoing amazing herbalists and gardeners, writing, and developing recipes. Following is an excerpt from the book, to whet your appetite for the full version!

Herb-infused finishing salts are a delightful alchemy between earth and sea, plant and mineral. Surprisingly easy to conjure up, and beautiful to behold, herbal salts provide an easy way to preserve excess fresh culinary herbs. They are called finishing salts because they are added to a dish after it is prepared. However, many of these salt blends are perfect for adding to marinades and dressings. Or they can be rubbed on meats and seafood before roasting or pan-frying. I enjoy finishing salts on popcorn, eggs, and to flavor goat cheese spreads.

Preparing herbal finishing salts involves blending fresh herbs with coarse salt in a food processor or spice blender until fine. If you haven’t such an apparatus, mince your fresh herbs with an old-fashioned knife, and then blend with the salt. A good general proportion is an equal part fresh herb(s) to salt, by volume. For instance, if you are making a rosemary/thyme salt, add one cup of de-stemmed rosemary and thyme leaves to one cup of coarse sea salt. If your blend is heavy on herbs, and light on the salt, it might take a little longer to dry.

After blending, spread the herb/salt mixture onto a serving tray or baking sheet and place in an area with good airflow. I like to place them on a table or counter under a ceiling fan. Depending on the ambient humidity, they may take two to four days to dry. The salt speeds up the drying process, simultaneously absorbing the flavor of the fresh herbs, along with the moisture. If you need your salt blend right away, place it on a cookie sheet in the oven on the lowest setting with the oven door slightly ajar. Stir frequently and crumble up any clumps. Depending on the herbs used, it may take a few hours. Let cool and jar. This method will evaporate off some of the essential oils of the herbs, thus decreasing the aroma and flavor. Therefore, I prefer the slow drying method if you have the time. If you are using dried herbs, you will skip the drying step, and use less of the herbs than a recipe calls for, as dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh.

Herbal Salt Recipe

Ingredients for the Herb-Infused Finishing Salt–Dusky Desert

The sky’s the limit with blending! Feel free to experiment with your favorite culinary herbs. There are so many pretty varieties of salt available now, which add a whole new dimension to the flavor and color palette of these brilliant mixtures. I will outline some of my favorite sea salts, which all vary slightly in texture, flavor and hue.

  • Himalayan pink salt is hand-mined from ancient marine fossil deposits. The pink hue is derived from its high mineral and trace element content, including calcium, magnesium, copper, and iron.
  • Smoked sea salt is prepared by slow roasting salt over flavorful wood smoke from various species of trees. I like to include smoked sea salt in BBQ herb blends.
  • Red Alaea sea salt, or Red Hawaiian sea salt, is formed from seawater slowly evaporating in tidal pools, that are naturally infused with iron-rich, red volcanic clay. Talk about elemental alchemy! Fire, water, mineral, and air are all embodied in this crimson maritime sacrament.
  • Volcanic Hawaiian sea salt is truly jet black, but it is colored by activated charcoal made from coconut shells, and not lava rock as one might imagine from its name. The black will “wash” off if used in cooking, so preparing it as a finishing salt is the best way to preserve the evocative ebony hue.
  • Kala Namak is mined from several areas in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Also called Himalayan black salt, it has a pungent aroma and unique eggy flavor, due to its high sulfur content. It comes from the earth in inky crystals, but it is pink or light purple in color after it is ground.
  • Celtic sea salt is a coarse sea salt, gray in hue, due to the harvesting technique, which includes the bottom mineral layer of the salt harvesting area. It is hand-harvested and sun dried.

Here are a few of my favorite herb-infused finishing salt recipes:

Dusky Desert Herb-Infused Finishing Salt Recipe

Dusky Desert Finishing Salt

This pungent blend is especially good on poultry, but also adds interest to herbed goat cheese blends, roasted roots and stuffing. You can also add it to olive oil and vinegar to create a flavorful salad dressing. Yet another way to enjoy this finishing salt is on sweet potato and black bean casseroles and burritos. The pungent flavor nicely accompanies the sweetness of winter squash—try it as a bright garnish on squash bisque.  Makes about 1 1/4 cup.

  • 1/3 cup tightly packed rosemary leaves (de-stemmed)
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 cup of tightly packed whole sage leaves
  • 15 juniper berries (mashed with a mortar and pestle or the back of a knife, prior to blending)
  • 1 cup coarse salt (I used a mixture of pink Himalayan salt, black volcanic sea salt, and smoked sea salt)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Blend and dry on sheets, as described above.

White sage and lemon finishing salt recipe

Lemon- White Sage Finishing Salt

This is one of my favorite herb-infused finishing salts, and delightful to prepare as the aroma is so uplifting. If you haven’t tried white sage (Salvia apiana, Lamiaceae) as a culinary herb, you are in for a real treat. It is similar to its kissing cousin, garden sage, but more intense in flavor. If you don’t have white sage on-hand, try freaking out. Alternately, you can substitute garden sage. Like garden sage, white sage’s pungent, resinous flavor complements fatty foods. Indeed, our taste buds may be speaking for our stomachs in this department, as sage is one of the best culinary herbs for enhancing the digestion of fats through stimulating bile. Try this finishing salt in stuffing, along with black pepper and anise seeds. Meatloaf, poultry and baked roots are all enhanced by this blend. Makes about 1 cup.

  • 15 grams (1 handful) white sage leaves, whole
  • 1 cup coarse pink Himalayan salt
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest

Blend and dry on sheets, as described above.

Recipe for white sage and lemon herb-infused finishing salt

White sage and lemon herb-infused finishing salt

Pictured at the beginning of this post are a wider array of herb-infused finishing sea salts, which will be featured in my forthcoming book on growing and enjoying medicinal herbs.

How to prepare herbal finsihing salts from Blog Castanea.


 

White sage is endemic to southern California and northern Baja, Mexico. That means it only grows in those locations. It has been overharvested for smudge sticks, and additionally suffers from habitat loss from development and agriculture. Here’s the good news: you can grow you own white sage in the garden or as a potted plant. One of the best parts of growing your own medicine is that it takes the pressure off wild populations of herbs. Additionally, it removes the environmental costs of transporting herbs across continents, and even the sea!

Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Cultivating Medicinal Herbs, on growing and enjoying white sage:

How to grow white sage and use it medicinally

White Sage  

Salvia apiana, Lamiaceae

The gray-green, felty leaves of white sage mirror the pigmenting of its native habitat—coastal foothills, desert washes and canyons of the southwest. The refreshing scent of this arid mint-family member is familiar to anyone who has burned a sage smudge stick. The aroma of the fresh leaf is intoxicating and enlivening, and brings me right back to fond memories of hiking in the scrubby, aromatic coastal lands that white sage calls home.

Evergreen shrubby perennial: Endemic to the southern California and Baja California

Zones: 8—11 as a perennial; grown as an annual, or a potted indoor plant in colder climates; full sun

Soil: pH 6-8; well-drained soil

Size: 4’ to 5’ tall, and 3’ to 4’ wide as a perennial; 2’ tall and 1’ to 2’ wide as an annual

Propagation: The seeds germinate after 1 to 3 weeks at 75 to 85 °F. Low germination rates are common; sow heavily and take care to not overwater the seedlings. Lightly cover the seed. Fire enhances germination, but it is not necessary. If you wish to try fire treatment, make a small pile of dry kindling over the planted seeds, letting the ash fall onto the soil or planting medium. Take softwood cuttings in the spring from vegetative shoots, 3 to 4” long, and remove the lower leaves. The cuttings will root better with warm soil temperatures.

Cultivation: White sage is somewhat adaptable to a variety of climates, and can even be grown in the southeastern United States, where humidity reins supreme. It is hardy to 15 °F, but doesn’t appreciate the combination of wet and cold, and thus frequently succumbs during the winter in milder, temperate climates with ample rainfall. Richo Cech, of Horizon Herbs, recommends mulching the crowns heavily with sand to keep the plant warmer and drier during cold weather. Consider planting white sage in a greenhouse, or in a pot overwintered in a south-facing window. In humid climates, white sage will sometimes develop fungal diseases or rot. I cut off the afflicted area, and it will often make a comeback, but sometimes the whole plant up and dies. Subsequently, I plant more white sage than I ultimately need, knowing I will have some attrition (usually ¼ of the plants, or less, depending on the weather that season). White sage is especially alluring in a terra cotta or a glazed blue ceramic pot. Add extra drainage material to the soil mix, such as coarse sand, perlite or pine bark fines, and take care to not overwater. Try placing potted white sage in a covered spot that receives ample sunshine, but excludes rainfall (like the overhang of a roof).

Problem Insects and Diseases: Aphids can sometimes infest the fresh growth of white sage, especially in the greenhouse.

Part used: Leaves and stems

Preparation: Tea, tincture, smudge, honey, gargle, herb-infused salt, and steam inhalation

Actions: Anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, astringent, carminative, and anti-inflammatory

How to grow white sage and use it medicinally from Blog Castanea

Medicinal:

White sage’s medicinal uses are very similar to its Mediterranean cousin, garden sage (Salvia officinalis), although the former is more anti-microbial and stimulating than its domestic brethren. I find that a steam inhalation of the leaves helps to break up respiratory congestion in both the lungs and the sinuses. Try combining it with thyme and wild bergamot in the steam pot with a few drops of Eucalyptus essential oil. Sage leaves were burned after sickness to fumigate the home, and the fragrant smoke was a remedy for colds in the sweathouse. The practice of burning white sage as an aromatic cleansing and purifying agent has been widely adapted by westerners, to the demise of wild populations, which have been overharvested, primarily for smudge sticks. These are bundles of aromatic plants, assembled when fresh, and tied together with string and dried. The “sticks” hold their form and slowly smoke when lit on fire. Pictured below are smudge sticks made from one white sage plant grown in regular garden soil, amended with extra pine bark fines, in western North Carolina.

 

White sage cultivation and medicinal uses

Smudge sticks fashioned from one plant grown in regular garden soil in western North Carolina

P.S. Our newsletter is the best way to find out about upcoming in –person classes at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, and the release of the book and distance-learning course. Plus, we offer exclusive coupons for our programs in appreciation of our readers.

Here’s where you can sign up!

Here are some photos from the book and course on cultivating medicinal herbs!

Correspondence course on Cultivating Medicinal Herbs at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Correspondence course on Cultivating Medicinal Herbs at the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine

Resources:

Horizon Herbs – http://horizonherbs.com phone (541) 846-6704  Largest collection of organically grown medicinal herb seeds and plants. Catalog is also a growers manual and contains many of the germination specifics listed below.

Richters – http://www.richters.com phone (905) 640-6677 Huge selection of herb seeds and plants. Rare or hard-to-find herbs.

Prairie Moon Nursery – http://www.prairiemoon.com phone (866) 417-8156 Seeds and plants of natives to the prairie and eastern states. Loads of germination information in their seed section.

United Plant Savers – Nursery and Bulk Herb Directory (available free to members) http://www.unitedplantsavers.org/

Fedco seeds and Organic Garden Supply – cooperative seeds, trees, and gardens supply, located in Maine (207) 873-7333 or (207) 430-1106 http://www.fedcoseeds.com/

Johnny’s Selected Seeds – 1-877-564-6697 large selection of garden/farm supply http://www.johnnyseeds.com/default.aspx

Mountain Rose Herbs –https://www.mountainroseherbs.com — Sea salts, medicinal and culinary herbs

33 thoughts on “Herbal Finishing Salts and White Sage

  1. “If you don’t have white sage on-hand, try freaking out.” OMG, I am laughing so hard! But seriously thank you, this is inspiring.

  2. This is great! I use finishing salts from The Salt Cellar because making them myself isn’t always doable. This inspires me to be more of a DIY person. How do you like Celtic sea salt? Is it much different than Himalayan salt?

    • Hi Alex,

      You can definitely use Celtic sea salt for your finishing salts. I love to experiment with different kinds of salts as they each have different nuances. Himalayan pink salt is hand-mined from ancient marine fossil deposits. The pink hue is derived from its high mineral and trace element content. It’s also the salt of choice in Ayurveda.

  3. This book sounds fascinating and looks like it will be beautiful. I just finished the Chestnut mini-herbal freebie course, and came over here to find out more about these finishing salts. I think I know what my christmas gifts are going to be. 🙂 I’m planning on taking the full Chestnut herbal course next winter, and I’m already very excited. Thank you!

  4. Hi Juliet,
    I just found out about your teachings in an email from Jenny at Nourished Kitchen. I signed up for your March 23 class.
    I am on my second topic on your blog and the mention of your book peaked my interest. Is it to late to get in on the crowdfunding? I am now on your email list and look forward to learning how to incorporate fresh/homegrown herbs in my life. Looking forward to your class. Thanking you in advance,

  5. Live the pictures and the great recipies of the salts , please keep my email and let me know when your book comes out as well as please send me info on your correspondence course thanks so much x

  6. Thank you Juliet. You are such an inspiration! I recently had the pleasure of your teachings while taking two of your classes at the TWHC in New Mexico. I’m looking forward to taking both your Herbal Medicine Making course as well as your complete online program as soon as it’s make available. Yay! I’m sooooo excited!!!!

  7. How beautiful and delicious. These salts are my next project…after I get my herbs established. I’m so impressed. I was able to attend two of your sessions at the Asheville Mother Earth Fair. You’re an amazing lady. I have some herbs started from seed now and have ordered more after your lessons. Please, oh, please, don’t let me miss your book. Can we preorder it? Thanks for all the info, Teach.

    • Linda,

      Thanks for the kind words and good luck with your new herb babies and garden! The crowd funding campaign will be a way to “preorder” the book — hopefully it will run this fall! The best way to find out about the campaign is to sign up for our e-mails.

      Happy growing,
      Juliet

  8. Carol Samsel says:

    So glad I ran across this article… I have several new white sage seedlings growing under my plant lights and now I know to pot them up and bring them back inside this fall. I will be creating a small indoor greenhouse in the basement for my tender perennial herbs.

  9. I’ve made herbal salts for my culinary dispensary, though not in a while. And I’ve often wondered about making my own smoked salt.

    So, I thank you on both counts for the inspiration to revisit a neglected practice and to create a new one!

  10. I really liked the dirt under the finger nails of the person holding the white sage. To me that says a lot about your new book.

  11. I especially enjoyed the section on white sage and growing it here (in a humid climate). And the photo of the harvest made into sage sticks from one plant (one year old?) was just so perfect! Very motivating/empowering.

  12. A wonderful, useful excerpt with beautiful photos; looking forward to the book and the funding campaign. Please add me to your list, if I’m not already on it (may be on it from signing at SE Women’s fest last fall?)

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