Preserve the flavors of your herb garden all year by using the ancient practice of drying.
Drying is believed to be the oldest form of food preservation. According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, recently discovered food samples are believed to have been dried in Jericho about 4,000 years ago. Drying herbs removes excess water to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold—an easy and safe way to preserve herbs year-round.
Here are three ways to do it.
Hanging herbs to dry is probably the easiest method. This method works best with low-moisture herbs, such as dill, rosemary, summer savory and thyme. First, remove the lower leaves and gather four to six branches into bundles and tie them with a string. Then, place the bundles in a brown paper bag upside-down with the stems sticking out from the bag and tie. Next, punch holes in the bag to promote air circulation. In a dark, cool place, hang the bags for a few weeks.
Sun-drying is another cost-effective way to dry herbs. Lay a towel on a hard, dry surface, such as a back porch or patio. Place the herbs on the towel while making sure the herbs are not touching each other. Bring the herbs inside at night to ensure the dryness of your herbs.
Use the oven to dry herbs quickly and effectively. Place the leaves and stems of the herb on a flat baking sheet. Heat the oven to about 180 degrees and warm the herbs for two to three hours. Microwave ovens also may be used to dry herbs, although this method can cause herbs to dry too quickly and lose flavor. If you decide to try it, place the plant on a paper towel and microwave on high for about three minutes.
Every herb, root and berry has a different peak time for harvesting. Here are a few tips:
• Leaves should be clipped before the flowers of the plant have opened. Leaves often are the most fragrant at this stage. Gather flowers such as lavender when the plant first starts to open.
• Roots should be collected in the fall after the plant has begun to die. However, dandelion roots should be collected in the early spring.
• Seeds should be gathered in the fall when the seed starts to ripen.
• Harvest berries as soon as they are ripe, which is usually mid-summer to early fall.
Samantha Collins is an intern at The Herb Companion.
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