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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

How to Dry Herbs

The first harvest celebration of the year was last week (Aug. 1) but harvesting of herbs and other early plants will continue from now until the first frost.  If you are growing indoor herbs, "harvest season" never really ends.  So it's a good idea to know how to "process" those herbs which you wish to keep for use over the winter or until your next bunch comes in.

Most herb gardens produce much more than you can use right away without your family getting tired of the same flavor. And for those of us who want to have herbs around all year for dinner or medicinal uses drying is definitely the best way to do this.

Air drying is the easiest and cheapest way to dry fresh herbs. However, this method is best for herbs that don't have a high moisture content such as Bay, Dill, Oregano, Rosemary and Thyme. Herbs with high moisture contents will not become completely dry this way and can mold.

How to Harvest

  • You want to harvest prior to flowering. Once they start to flower their quality will start to decline slightly.  
  • Harvest in the mid-morning. After the morning dew drys and before the afternoon sun.
  • If you MUST harvest during another time, aim for morning and simply lay them between paper towels or towels to dry up the last of the dew.

How To Dry (without an electric dryer)

  1. Snip mature and healthy branches of herbs from your plants.
  2. Remove any dry or diseased leaves.
  3. Shake gently to remove any insects.
  4. You may wash or rinse herbs if you used a fertilizer or bug sprays (which I hope you didn't). However wet herbs will mold, so use a towel to fully dry the leaves and branches prior to continuing. 
  5. Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch.
  6. Bundle 4 - 6 branches together and tie as a bunch. String is best, but rubber bands or even twist ties work as well. However, rubber bands and twist ties will loosen as the herbs dry and shrink. So make sure to check that through drying.
    *The higher the moisture content, the smaller your bundle should be.
  7. Punch or cut several holes in a paper bag. Label the bag with the name of the herb you are drying.
    **You do not HAVE to use the bag method, you can simply hang them. HOWEVER, the bag helps to wick moisture away faster, allows for a better label system AND stops falling leaves or pollen (depending on the plant) from making a mess on your floor or shelf.
  8. Place the herb bundle upside down into the bag.
  9. Gather the ends of the bag around the bundle and tie closed. Make sure the herbs are not crowded inside the bag.
  10. Hang the bag in a warm, airy room, by the bundle stem.
  11. Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing. Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store.

How to Store

  1. I find canning or mason jars to be the best way to store herbs. But any "Zip Bag" or tightly sealing food container will work
  2. Make sure to both label and date your jars.
  3. Crushing your herbs will deplete the remaining essential oils and weaken flavor. So it's best to store the whole leaves and crush when it's time to use them.
  4. Store in cool dry place and out of sunlight. 
  5. If you see signs of mold, pitch them! Usually this means they were either not dried all the way, there is moisture in the container or place of storage.
  6. Dried herbs are best used within a year. 

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