Fresh herbs from the garden are an excellent way to add a little spice to your life. Drying some of those herbs allows for that same spice any time of the year – even when they are out of season. Not only is drying your own herbs a cheaper alternative to purchasing them at the grocery store, but it’s also very easy to do. The following four steps will explain all you need to know about how to harvest, dry, and store your own fresh garden herbs.
#1 – Harvesting the Herbs
The best time to harvest fresh herbs is just before the plant begins to flower. At this time, the flavor will be at its peak. The type of herb will determine where it should be cut. Annual herbs should be harvested from ground level, while perennial herbs should be cut from about one third of the way down the stem.
On the day you decide to harvest your herbs, you should do so during the late morning hours – preferably after the morning dew has dried, but before the leaves have started to wilt in the afternoon sun. Certain herbs like oregano can be harvested multiple times per season to obtain the maximum harvest from the plants. Each variety of herb is different, and some extra research into the specific types of herbs you plan to harvest is recommended.
#2 – Washing the Herbs
Wash the herbs quickly using cold running water. Be sure not to over-wash the herbs as this might affect the flavor. As you are washing the herbs, remove anything that appears less than optimum. This includes herbs with wilted, discolored, and diseased leaves. Once the plants are clean and the unusable ones have been removed, lightly pat them dry with a paper towel and set them aside.
#3 – Binding the Herbs
Separate the washed herbs into small groups and remove the leaves at the base of the stem. Two or three inches of clear stem works well. Use a twist tie to tightly hold the stems together and then hang them in a warm, dry, dust-free, and well ventilated area away from direct sunlight. It is important for the stems to be tied together tightly as a small bundle, or the stems will shrink and the herbs will fall.
#4 – Drying and Storing the Herbs
Actual drying times will depend on the moisture content of the individual herbs. Most types of herbs such as bay leaves, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme, will dry in around two weeks. Once they have completely dried, remove the stems and store the leaves (either whole or crushed) in an airtight container. Store in a cool place.
Check the container daily during the first few days of storage. Moisture from herbs which haven’t been fully dried can quickly lead to mold in air-tight containers. If you spot any condensation, remove the herbs and continue drying until the remaining moisture is gone.
Fresh herbs from the garden can be a welcomed addition to any meal during the summer months while they are readily available. Now, with a little extra effort, anyone can enjoy the flavors of home-grown herbs throughout the rest of the year as well.