Drying Your Herbs

This is from the July 31st Marilynn's Master Gardening Newsletter.

It has been a rather rainy week here in Mich, but the plants are loving it! It's been way too dry lately, the black-eyed Susans and the hibiscus bushes (they can be trained as trees, too), were getting hit hard despite watering. Suddenly, it rained so hard that things are floating away, and it's keeping it up to the plant's delight (although us humans like some sun...)

This is a strange time to talk about drying herbs, I suppose, but the plants are getting ready and for some, it's already time. Here's some basic guidelines to preserving herbs.

Herbs where the leaves are dried need to be hung upside-down in a well-ventilated area. If you have a dark but well-ventilated area, good! But, if not, the ventilation is the most important. Humidity, if allowed to build up and stagnate, will cause mold on your herbs!

Dry the plants until the leaves have lost their moisture. Most kinds will crumble if crunched between your fingers when they are ready. It's then time to store them. Pick an air-tight container. A dark container will help keep the flavor, but it's prettier if you have a clear container. If you go for the visual effect in your kitchen, make sure to only store what you can use fairly quickly in the clear container. Commercial herbs and spices are often sold in clear containers. This is because they want to sell product! Visually stunning product sells better. The effect which catches your eye in the store, however, isn't always the best for the product.

Herbs where the seeds are the edible part need to be left to grow until the seeds are COMPLETELY ready (for most types). Wait until the seed head is dried up (ON THE GROWING PLANT)--it may look kind of ecchy!--then carefully pick it so you don't lose the seeds, which will be ready to dump all over. Spread a newspaper over a table and shake the seeds onto it. If they won't come out, crunch the seed head a bit with your hands, that should free up the seeds. The point of using a newspaper (or some other kind of paper if newspaper doesn't seem "clean" enough for your taste...) is that you can fold it in the center and then funnel the seeds into a container. Like the leaves, seeds do best stored in a cool, dark container. (You do not need ventilation since the seeds will already be dry.) The effect of a clear bottle, however, is quite stunning, so if you think you can use them fast enough, by all means use the clear one!

Some seeds will be a bit wet when harvested even when they're ready. Let them dry out on a paper anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks (keep feeling them). For this, non-printed paper is absolutely preffered, since moisture will take up the ink in newspaper (yuck...).

For plants where the stems are the edible part, prepare like the ones where you will be using the leaves.

To use the herbs, remember that it takes less of dried herbs to flavor something than it does of fresh ones! Taste dishes while adding herbs to get the right amount (don't just dump some in), unless you are familiar with the properties of the herb you are using, in the form you are using it. This will help ensure the desired results.