Get down and dirty in the garden
Q: My herbs are ready to harvest and I don’t know how to dry them, freeze them, etc. Help!
A: There are a few ways to dry herbs: Hang drying, screen drying, oven drying and refrigerator drying. Each technique has its pros and its cons; some techniques are better for certain herbs. When drying herbs you want to remove moisture from the plant and retain its oils. Usually, the longer it takes to dry the herbs, regardless of the technique, the less oils there will be, which means the dried herbs will have less flavor.
Basic Tips Before you Start the Drying Process
• Pick herbs just before the plant flowers to ensure that the flavors are at their strongest.
• When cutting herbs, make sure they are healthy. A few dead or damaged leaves here and they will not affect your drying as long as you discard them before drying process.
HANG DRYING: Hang drying is an ideal technique for long-stemmed herbs such as lavender, sage and rosemary.
Technique: Make a bundle of stems and tie the ends together. Pick a drying location that has good air circulation with minimal exposure to sunlight and dust. Hang the bundles upside down, and check back on the herbs in one to two weeks. You will know when the herbs are completely dried because the leaves will come off of the stem with minimal effort. Once they are dry, you can crumble them and store them into jars.
Pros: Hanging herbs is one of the easiest techniques and requires very minimal time.
Cons: If you do not have the right drying location, your herbs can take longer to dry.
SCREEN DRYING: This technique is great for smaller herbs.
Technique: Place the herbs on a window screen. As an alternative, you can use a piece of cheesecloth material stretched over a frame or any material that permits air circulation. Your herbs should be kept in a dry climate with minimal exposure to sunlight. Check on them after a couple of days and flip them over for so that they dry evenly. They will dry in about one week.
Pros: The process only takes about a week to complete. Like hang drying herbs, the process requires minimal time.
Cons: This drying technique requires space and a specific environment.
OVEN DRYING: Oven drying herbs speeds up the drying process, so be careful not to use this method for herbs that ignite quickly, such as sage.
Technique: Pull fresh leaves off of the stalk and place on an oven try. The oven should be around 350 to 400 degrees. Keep them in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes or until they are brittle. If the herbs are not freshly picked, reduce the oven temperature to 100 degrees and keep a constant eye on them so they do not burn.
Pros: This is the quickest drying process.
Cons: Unlike the previous techniques, using your oven to dry herbs is an expense. Also, this technique is very interactive.
REFRIGERATOR DRYING: Drying herbs in the refrigerator is great for small-leaved herbs like marjoram, rosemary and thyme.
Technique: Place small-leaved herbs on a plate and place in the refrigerator. For larger-leaved herbs, like basil, place leaves on a tray in the refrigerator. Check on them frequently and stir them around to avoid wilting and to ensure an even drying process. (Each type of herb has different drying times.) Once they are dry, place them into containers or freezer bags. Store them in the freezer for later use.
Pros: This cool, dry and dark climate will preserve oils and give you a minimal drying time.
Cons: This process requires spare refrigerator space. If the food in the refrigerator is not covered well, the odors will migrate to the herbs and they might taste like other foods. The opposite is true as well; food might taste like the herbs you are drying if the food is not covered well.
What’s your favorite drying technique? What technique have you had success with in the past? Leave a comment and let's chat about it.