Drying Your Own Herbs
When growing herbs in your kitchen or garden, we have aspirations of using these glorious ingredients in our Tuesday night pesto or Saturday evening curry. But aside from using our herbs immediately after harvesting, how can we keep them fresh for longer? What’s a gardener to do?
Good news! Keeping your herbs fresh and useful for longer periods of time is fast and easy. And with a little work, you can enjoy your summer harvest all year round, spicing your international cuisines from summer through winter. In fact, people have been drying their herbs for thousands of years to keep them from spoiling, so join in this age old tradition. Dry herbs are the best when done right, learn how.
The time you harvest your herbs truly matter, and they should be picked before your flowers start to emerge. Harvesting on warm and dry mornings are optimal after the dew has evaporated.
Discard any damaged leaves, and strip down the large-leaved herbs like sage and mint from their stalks. You can leave the smaller and more feather-like herbs on the stalk, such as dill or fennel. Some other notable small-leaved herbs include rosemary, lavender, thyme, lemon balm and mint.
While many people may think the most important component to drying herbs is heat, it’s actually more important to have plenty of dry and fresh air circulating. Make sure you place your herbs in a well-ventilated place away from direct sunlight.
If you live in a humid area, you can still dry herbs, but the process will take longer and mold may present a problem. If mold does happen to you, try using a commercial dehydrator.
At this point, you’ll want to tie your sprigs or branches into small bunches. Don’t make the bunches too big as they can develop into mold and discolored leaves.
Hang the bunches to dry with the leaves downward. You’ll want to wrap the herbs in muslin or paper bags in order to keep out dust and to catch seeds or falling leaves. Plastic bags are a no-no as they can lead to mold development.
Hang the bunches to dry for seven to ten days, depending on the size of your bundles and how humid your home may be. You’ll know when they are completely dry if the leaves make crisp crunchy sounds when you crush them.
This is the easiest and most decor friendly way to dry herbs. Not only are you creating something to use throughout the year, but you are able to enjoy the beautiful aesthetic hanging herbs provide!
Using A Rack To Dry
If you don’t have space in your home to hang herbs, or you want the process to happen quicker, try using a rack. This is able to speed up the drying process by spacing out your individual sprigs or leaves on a rack. All you have to do is stretch muslin or cheesecloth over a wooden frame and stabilize it in place. Place the tray in the warming drawer of an oven or in a warm and airy place out of direct sun. Make sure to turn your leaves over frequently to ensure even drying. This process should only take a few days.
While it may seem that drying your herbs in the oven is the method which makes the most sense, most ovens don’t have temperature settings low enough to ensure quality drying without burning the herbs. Also, high temperatures diminish the fragrant essential oils. However, some herbs such as mint, sage, rosemary, thyme, and parsley do well in oven drying, when stripped from their stalks.
Space out the leaves on a muslin-covered tray in an oven set to the lowest possible temperature. Leave the door slightly open in order to allow moisture to escape. Turn the leaves over after 30 minutes to ensure even drying; the herbs should be pretty dry after about an hour. Leave the herbs in the oven until they are cool.
If you are absolutely unable to use the previous two methods, you can always try and use the microwave. While not ideal, the microwave can be used to dry herbs in a pinch. Microwaves work well using small amounts of herbs. Separate the leaves from the stems, rinse if it is necessary, and let them air dry.
Once dry, place a single layer of leaves on a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Place another paper towel on top and microwave on high for one minute. Watch this process closely to make sure you don’t burn the leaves. Continue at 30-second intervals until the herbs are fully dry.
Storing Your Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are dried, it’s time to store them for future use. All you have to do is crumble your herbs with your fingers and store them in small, airtight containers. Small Mason jars work well but make sure to store glass containers in a dark place so the herbs don’t lose their flavor or color.
When using your dried herbs remember that they are concentrated in flavor and you don’t have to use as much in recipes! 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs is equal to about 1 teaspoon of dried herbs!
And that’s it! Enjoy your newly harvested and dried herbs, fresh from your garden or home. This is an easy way to save money and get better flavor. Forget having to pay the grocery store 5 bucks to use the same product that you can make yourself!