Do you like to preserve your harvest for the coming winter months? Even though I don’t can and only have a tiny freezer, I love to preserve the plants and foods that are ripening and fruiting at this time of year. My answer to limited space is to dry and dehydrate.
I have been drying my herbs for years, and a few years ago started drying more weeds and flowers, such as day lily flowers, to use in winter dishes like hearty stews. Last winter when a particularly vicious depression hit, the dried goosefoot, amaranth, kale, and other foods in my pantry were a real life saver.
Here are some suggestions on drying herbs and plants for the winter and general use that I have developed over the years.
By drying I mean drying the plant matter completely so that there is no moisture left and it can be stored in paper bags or glass jars. I don’t dry fleshy fruits or vegetables this way because they would take up too much room and I would worry about molding.
To dry plants that I will use for food or medicine, I hang them or lay them on wicker paper plate holders or other flat, woven basketry. When using wicker or basketry, make sure to put the plant material in a single layer so it will dry quickly and well. Piling it makes a good environment for mold. You may have to turn the plant material or stir it a bit to facilitate the drying process.
I have a piece of pegboard on the wall of my kitchen with pegs on it on which I hang bunches of plant material, flowers, and seed heads. There is plenty of air flow around the plants and they dry very well. I used to have the side rail of a baby crib that I hung with chains from the basement ceiling (we had a dehumidifier so it kept the basement dry and worked for the plant material) and made hooks that hung off of the slats and held the plant bunches.
An easy way to make a quick drying apparatus is to take a clothes hanger and use pulled apart metal paper clips for hooks to hang your plan material. Make sure to hang it where it will get good air circulation.
There are many other ways to hang your plant materials—rows of wooden pegs, off of chandeliers, hooks or nails in a shed, and so on. One other way to dry plants is to put them in a paper bag with plenty of air space. I don’t often do this, but some people swear by it.
When roots are small enough and thin enough, I will hang them to dry, especially if they are attached to the above-ground part of the plants, as with small dandelions. Generally, however, the best way to dry roots is to chop them up and spread them out on a wicker surface, or just a regular plate, to dry. You want to chop up your roots unless they are really small and thin, because otherwise when they dry out they can be very difficult, if not impossible, to cut into small pieces that can then be put into the tea pot or eaten in soups.
Preparing Your Plant Material for Drying
To prepare your plants for hanging to dry, make sure they are dry and clean of all dirt. Rinse off dirt if you need to.
Gather several stems of what you drying into a bunch and bind it tightly at one end, either with string or a rubber band. (When you use string you can put a loop at one end for hanging.) Hang your bunches spaced slightly apart so that the air can get to all parts of them. Let dry for several days to a week or more until plant material is completely dry, there is no moisture left in it.
Leaves are dry when they are somewhat crumbly. You will need to judge more by the look and feel for flowers and stems. It can be hard to tell at times if something is completely dry. It can take experience with the different plants you are drying to know what is dry enough. If in doubt, leave it a bit longer. Storing your dried plant materials in a paper bag is helpful if you are unsure about dryness.
I store what I have dried in glass jars and paper bags. Paper bags are especially easy to pile and squeeze into your cupboards or storage space. I like to leave my plant materials as whole as possible, as It gives less surface area for air to diminish the nutrients. I do, however, crush leaves when it makes it easier to get them in the bag or jar, or when I am trying to get as much as possible into the container or bag.
I hope this gets you started on drying some food or herbs for your winter dishes, and for general use year-round.
What have you dried and how have you used it? Tell me in the comments section below.