Whether you grow herbs in your garden or landscape or have a few pots growing, most herbs can be harvested, dried and stored for use during the winter months. By preserving these flavorful seasonings, you can enjoy them well into the winter months.
Many herbs, such as basil, rosemary, and sage, are harvested for their leaves. Gather these when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give the herbs their distinctive flavors and aroma are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove approximately 1/3 of the current year’s growth on perennial herbs. Annual herbs can be cut completely back. Most herbs can be harvested in midsummer and again in the fall.
Harvest herbs early in the morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water. Next place them on paper toweling to dry. Then dry them using one of the following methods:
Air Drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs. To dry whole branches or stems, gather 8-12 stems in a bunch. Tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70 – 80 F) dry area, not in direct sunlight. The herbs should be dry in 2-4 weeks. After drying, crush or crumble the leaves and store in airtight jars in a cool, dry place.
Drying Tray A drying tray consists of a mesh screen or cheesecloth attached to a wooden frame. A small window screen also works well. Place blocks under the corners of the frying tray to insure good air circulation. Place a single layer of leaves or branches on the drying surface and keep the herbs in a warm, dry area until they are thoroughly dry.
Oven To oven dry herbs, spread in a single layer of leaves or stems on a cookie sheet or shallow baking pan. Place the herbs in a warm, not hot, (up to 180 F) oven for 3 – 4 hours. Leave the door open and stir the herbs periodically until they are thoroughly dry.
Microwave Place the herbs on a paper towel and cover with a second sheet. Set the microwave control on high and dry the herbs for 1-3 minutes. (This method requires some experimentation to determine exact drying time.) Then remove the herbs and let them cool.
Some herbs, such as dill, caraway, and coriander, are valued for their seed. The seed heads should be harvested just before they turn brown so that the seeds don’t fall off while cutting. Cut off the entire head and place in a paper bag. Then place the bags in a warm, dry area. After drying, shake the seeds loose into the bag. Remove any chaff by pouring from one container to another outside in a gentle wind.
Use your dried herbs all year long to flavor your soups, stews, casseroles, meats, etc. Happy Drying!