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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Herb Drying

My husband does all the gardening – EXCEPT for the herb garden. The herbs are in scalloped lined sections in an 8 foot square of our back yard garden. In it, I have fennel, chives, lemon balm, oregano, cilantro, sage, two kinds of thyme, basil, peppermint, chocolate mint, rosemary, and this year I tried Sweet Woodruff until I read about it. It is toxic, except in small quantities in wine. I immediately moved it to another part of the garden as it is a lovely looking plant.

I have experimented with several ways of harvesting and storing and using the herbs. Once the herbs are in containers in the cupboard, they are easy to use. But getting them there is a bit more complicated than I thought it would be. However, it is so fun working with the aromatic herbs that I don’t mind the time it takes.

This year I established what I think will be an ongoing routine in harvesting the herbs. I cut the herbs, rinse them well and put them in a strainer where I can shake them or pat them dry. Then I move them to the drying screen I made.

The screen is made from a piece of nylon screen my husband bought that would generally replace a torn screen in a screen door. I taped the edge of the screen all the way around with black duct tape folded in half with the screen edge inside the folded tape. This makes for easy handling without snagging the edges. Next I folded the screen in half width wise. It is now a folded screen about 4 x 5’ feet in size. I then taped the folded edge as I did the outside edge of the screen, which becomes a permanent fold..

I lay my folded screen on a table or on the grass in the sun. Bugs and stray bits of dirt and leaves will not get inside the screen. The herbs go between the screens spread out in piles. Each pile is marked with a marker showing the name of the herb (unless I know I can recognize it when it dries) if there is more than one kind of herb on the screen drying. I clip each corner of the screen with a large metal black clip, but any clip will do. Weights can be attached to the metal clips on the corners if a breeze comes up. Also, I can clip the edges between the corners together with clothespins in a breeze.

I have even been known to move the screen into the garage, onto the patio, or wherever, if a storm threatens. Between drying, I store the markers, clips, screen, etc. in a Christmas wrapping paper box in the garage.

After a day or two, when the herbs are completely dry, I crush the leaves of each individual batch of herbs into a dish, and discard the stems. I then store them in the plastic, amber pill bottles you can get inexpensively from a pharmacy. I have several sizes as some herbs are more prolific than others. Another way I store them is in zip loc bags if necessary.

The only herb I prepare before it dries is chives. I cut those into small snippets before drying in a bowl or cookie sheet.

Of course, fresh herbs are the best. But dried herbs are great too. Also, fresh herbs can be frozen in ice cubes, stored in plastic bags in the freezer, and then added to soups and casseroles all year long.

I would like to experiment with herbs in teas. Anyone have suggestions? Also, suggest other herbs with which you have been successful.

~Carolyn Christensen


The Bach 9 1/2 ! said...

We froze some cilantro this year for the first time and love the freezing idea. I figured you could dry it and your ideas sound great!! Thanks for the post.

Saren said...

Thank you for sharing the way you dry your herbs. I have always wanted to, but was never sure how to go about it. This is the year we will do it!


Summer said...

Boil water in a tea kettle. Take a good pinch of sage (the whole clump should be about the size of a ping pong ball? adjust to taste.) and add to boiling water. Add a spoonful of ceylon tea (black) to the water and take the tea off the element. Let it steep for 5-10 minutes. I grew up taking my tea this way. It's Palestinian.