Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Hangin' with Herbs. . .

There are several ways to dry herbs.  Some are more elaborate than others, but all are effective in their own way.  I'm going to give a run-down of the two methods I use.  I would love to have a drying rack, but our lifestyle makes that a dangerous choice for the herbs.  (If you want to make your own, here is a good one.)

Both of these methods take about the same amount of time, but there are herbs better suited to one or the other.  

First, and probably the easiest, is the towel technique.  This works best for herbs that bruise easily or tend to lose their green color when hanging, or for loose leaf herbs.  (Basil falls into both of these categories.)  

Clip your herbs, rinse them under cool running water, and pat dry with a clean dish or paper towel.

You can use clean dish towels, absorbent and not too fibrous.  I used paper towels, and they work just as well.  Double your paper towels, or fold your dish towel, onto a solid surface that you can relocate easily.  Place your washed herbs on the towel, spreading them out so they can get air to dry properly.  (There are techniques for cutting the leaves before drying, but I have had little success with them.) 

Once your herbs are spread out on the towel, cover them with another.  I used one paper towel on top.  I also clipped the edges together to keep it from blowing off.  
Don't forget to label and date your drying herbs!
Others recommend putting your drying herbs into a dark drawer.  I left mine in my sunroom where it was warmer and dryer than the anywhere in my kitchen.  The dry air is the most important thing here.  Humidity will slow the process and possibly cause unwanted growth of the unhealthy sort.

It took my herbs about two weeks to dry completely, but this will vary depending on the location and type of herbs you are working with.

The second method, and more fun for me, is the paper bag method.  This goes along the lines of hanging herbs to dry, but without the mess that can bring.  (I speak from experience.)  

Cut your herbs so you have nice long stems to work with.
Pinch the stems together so they are all even at the base, and tuck them into a paper bag.  Mine are slightly larger than "lunch" size.  I found this accommodates a wider variety of herbs.

Pull the top of the bag around the stems, and wrap a strong rubber band around them.

Don't forget your labels!

Again, this technique takes about two weeks.  Once the herbs are dry, pull them out and begin prepping them for storage.  (Here is where the two drying methods meet.  Prepping for storage is the same once the herbs are dry.)
Lemon Thyme dried and ready for prep.
Lemon Thyme in jar
For the herbs that are still on stems, it's usually easy to just pull your fingers gently down the stem to clean the leaves off.  Herbs like Basil and Parsley that are just leaves can be ground with a mortar and pestle or simply tossed in a food processor and ground until they are the size and consistency you desire.
Dried Lemon Thyme leaves

 For storage, you can use anything you want, as long at it's air-tight.  I had some nice jars from my cousin's wedding.  I hammered the herb names into copper tags and wrapped them around the mouth of the jar.

 Herbs that do better with the towel method: 

  • basil
  • parsley
  • mint
  • sage

Herbs for hanging:

  • thyme
  • rosemary
  • oregano
  • catnip

Obviously, there are others, but I haven't dried them yet.  My chives, for instance, I use fresh or freeze.

 Happy Drying!

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