I have been pestering my husband for over a year to make a plant press for me. At one point, I even madeit public by writing a few blogs to drop the hint. Alas, our farming activities have included so much growing, harvesting and processing of plants that there was little time to spare to make me more equipment to study them.
Anyone who wants to learn more about their local medicinal plants should have a plant press. In some spaces of course, such as anational park, it is inappropriate to take plant specimens. This is a project more suited for outings in privately owned wild areas where you are given permission to hike. A good guide book is essential, but there are times when it is inconvenient to stay out in the field long enough to research the identity of any new find. For these times a good pocket knife and plastic baggies are just as important as the field guide.
A plant press will allow a budding naturalist to preserve plant specimens in a more permanent way. Keeping a library of dried plant material connects us with the earliest botanists and medicine makers. When I first started I used phone books and old magazines stacked between heavy encyclopedias. This is a great way to work in a pinch, but invariably I lost track of which books held my latest collection and they were easily damaged or forgotten. I had in mind a plant press that James Green describes in his Herbal Medicine-Maker’s Handbook, A Home Manual, but making it required a trip to the hardware store... insert my previous comments on lack of time here....
Finally, this year for my birthday, my husband came up with a new design that was quick and easy enough to get done in between weeding the garden and taking care of the kids. I couldn’t wait to share it with others as I believe it is a practical way for anyone to make their own press. So many do-it-yourselfers don’t have a wood shop, so his solution will allow anyone who can operate a simple cordless drill to connect with their environment in this ancient way.
Time is always of the essence, so going to the local store and buying two matching cutting boards was a quick choice. You can pick the size of the board to meet your needs. We selected ones with handles so that it can be carried around the farm or on trips. With materials in hand, this project took us about 15 minutes to complete and is much more cost-effective than ones you can buy on the internet:
Tools and Materials
drill with drill bit
paper cutter (or scissors)
optional wood clamps
2 wooden cutting boards with handles
4 bolts with matching wingnuts
blotting paper or watercolor/marker paper
Drill holes in the four corners of one of the cutting boards and use that board as the template to make matching holes in the second board (clamp with wood clamps for ease). To minimize wiggling/twisting, the holes should be just big enough to force your bolts through. Take cardboard and blotting paper and cut into a stack of rectangles that will just fit inside the bolt holes on your cutting boards. Put your bolts through the bottom cutting board and stack in your cut cardboard and paper. Place on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts. You’re ready to go in search of flowers!
Out in the field, take off the wing nuts and top cutting board to begin layering flowers. Start by laying a sheet of cardboard on the bottom board and place as many flowers as you can fit in between two sheets of blotting paper. Add a square of cardboard to complete the first layer. Keep adding layers to dry as many flowers as your bolt length will allow. When finished, put on the top cutting board and tighten down with the wing nuts to press. Sit your harvested flowers in a dry ventilated place and wait for success.
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