Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Drying Herbs

I have an herb garden this year and decided to dry them myself. Being without a dehydrator, I looked and looked for some other ways to dry them. There are two methods that I've found work well.

Using a brown paper bag is a great alternative from sun drying, especially when you have limited space or a rainy climate. You can accomplish this indoors in a well-ventilated room, basement, attic, or back porch. I like to dry my own, even when I don't grow them. If you have a local market or farmer's market you can simply use those in lieu of growing your own.

Most lower moisture herbs can be bag dried: Sage, Thyme, Chives, and Parsley are a few.

Cut your branches of herbs. Leave plenty of stem. Pull off the tougher leaves growing lower than about six inches on the stalk.

Wash herbs by swishing the branches through cold water, holding by stem ends. I've used a large sink colander to do this as well, as to not lose leaves.

Shake off excess water and lay on paper towels to rid of moisture. If you attempt to dry them wet, you will have moldy herbs in a few weeks and will have to chuck the whole bag.

Bundle half a dozen stem ends together and secure with twine or a rubber band. Label your paper bag and date. I've used the small school lunch bags, and they are found everywhere.

Enclose branches upside down in a large paper bag. Gather the bag around the stems and tie. Using a pencil or knife, punch about 10 holes all around the bag for air circulation.

Suspend in an airy place for two to three weeks. Herbs will be crispy when dry. The bag protects herbs from dust, bugs, etc..while they dry.

Oven dried herbs can be accomplished with just about any herb. Basil, tarragon, lemon balm and mint have high moisture content and have a penchant for molding if not dried quickly.

Remove the best leaves from the stems, wash and dry. Lay the leaves on a paper towel, single layer without allowing leaves to touch. Cover with another towel and another layer of leaves. Up to 5 layers may be dried at one time using this method.

Dry in a very cool oven as high temperatures will yield very bland herbs.

The oven light of an electric range or the pilot light of a gas range furnishes enough heat for overnight drying. Leaves dry flat and retain good color. Herbs are ready when they are crispy dry. Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry, dark area to protect color, flavor and fragrance.

Date and label the containers because all herbs, including those store bought jars, should be discarded after a year. Crumble when ready to use. These will be more potent than store bought, I've found and you'll be happier with how they taste.


Resources:
So Easy to Preserve
by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service, Fourth Edition, 1999, Bulletin 989.

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