Yummy herbal teas! Intensely flavored herbal additions to your stews and breads, and maybe the Thanksgiving turkey! Oh yeah, sounds soooo good.
Well, the place to look is your own or a friend’s garden or the local farmer’s market. Drying and storing herbs for your use is simple and gives you a wonderful feeling when you’re using them in your teas and your cooking, plus they taste tons better than anything you buy in the store!
At this time of year, as summer ends and autumn starts the count-down to winter, our herb plants are starting to go into their last hurrah for the season. If they’re annuals, they are blooming and setting seed, making sure they’ll have babies before they kick off. If they’re perennials, they may just now be blooming, setting seed for a new batch of plants beyond where they already live, or they may be thinking about tucking up their roots for the winter and slowing down their growth, getting ready to shed their leaves.
So before those plants bite the dust, it’s time to harvest them and have them ready for winter use.
If you have your own garden, you can pick what you like and put it to dry. Basil is great to dry, and its flowers are edible. You can take a whole plant out by its roots, chop them and any ugly leaves off, and hang it to dry.
Perennial herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and mints can also be harvested. If they are blooming, the flowers are also edible and can be included in what you dry.
If you’ve been growing nasturtiums, not only do you want to save a few seeds for next year, but you can dry the buds, flowers, and leaves for teas and soups, or put the flowers and/or seed into vinegar.
If you don’t have access to a garden, many vendors at farmers markets are selling herbs. A big bunch of basil will make marvelous pesto, but maybe more than you need right now, so dry the rest. Any other herbs you can find, grab them and dry them.
There are, however, 2 exceptions to the drying rule. Parsley and chives lose much of their “oomph” and taste when they dry, so the best way to retain their goodness is to freeze them. Snip your parsley or chives into small pieces, spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and put them in the freezer. When they are all frozen, simply put the frozen herb pieces into a jar, plastic container, or plastic baggie, label!, and keep in the freezer. You’ll be ale to scoop out what you want when you need it.
Now you may be wondering how to dry your herbs. Over the years I have found many ways to let them air dry, here are a couple:
- Put your herbs on a plate, a wicker paper plate holder (I found mine at yard sales), or a basket. Make sure that your herbs are in fairly single layer, or spread apart. If they hunch on top of each other, they will mold or dry unattractively brown. You can leave the leaves on the stems and strip them off when they are dry, or take the leaves off first, and spread to dry.
- Hang your herbs in small bunches to dry. You can gather a few stems of herb together and tie them together with a piece of string, or use a rubber band wrapped around them a few times. You can hang your bunches from pegs, like coat hook pegs, from pegs on a peg board, from beams in the attack, or from a clothes hanger. The clothes hanger can be hung anywhere you can find, and the herb bunches can be hooked on using unbent paper clips.
When your herbs are thoroughly dry, you can strip them off the stems, if you didn’t do this previously, and store them in a glass jar (my favorite way) or in paper bags. Some people use plastic bags, which is fine, but I prefer to avoid plastic when I can. I try not to crumble them too much when storing, preferring to do the crumbling just before I use them. They retain more of their flavor and goodness that way.
Label you herbs! You may think you will remember what they are, but they can look really different dried than fresh, and one dry herb can look remarkably like another. I am speaking from long experience here!
For the herbs you will use in cooking, get some pretty bottles or small jars, attach pretty labels, and keep with your herbs and spices. You will be amazed at how good they taste in your cooking, salad dressings, and more.
Next month we’ll look at some of the other ways you can use your freshly, deliciously dried herbs.