This week I had to break out my winter coat for the first time and find a hat to keep my ears warm while walking Hope. Even though we’re still getting the odd 70-degree day here and there, it feels like winter is slowly creeping closer to us. Part of me loves the cold and the way it seems to lovingly nudge us to slow down, cuddle up and get cozy and eat something warm and filling. But another part of me laments how all of the green things around me slowly start to wither away and die outside. I’ve been trying to find more ways to keep plants and herbs a bigger part of my life in the winter, so this year I’m making a big effort to dry herbs at home.
Inspired by Stephen Orr’s excellent new book, The New American Herbal, I’ve been bookmarking techniques for quick and easy herb-drying that lets you continue to use them throughout the year, whether it’s for tea and meals or homemade tinctures and remedies. I managed to keep a few thriving herb plants this year so I’m excited to try some of Stephen’s methods, from hang-drying to tossing them in the oven for a bit. I had so much fun trying these out that I asked Stephen if we could share his herb-drying tips here today and he kindly obliged. I hope you’ll try them out and see if you can find some ways to incorporate home-dried herbs in your winter life this year, too. Also, if you haven’t checked out The New American Herbal, I can’t recommend it more highly. I have just about every other page tagged with a note. It’s packed full of useful, easy-to-follow and truly fascinating information about how powerful herbs really are. Click here to check out Stephen’s interview with Max on D*S about the book. xo, grace
Click through for all 5 drying techniques after the jump!
Excerpted from The New American Herbal by Stephen Orr
There are several time-honored ways to dry herb leaves for future use. Experiment to determine which method works best in your climate. As with seed storage, mold or rot from too much moisture is the enemy. Once the leaves are completely dry, separate them from the stems and crumble into glass jars for storage.
•Drying rack: Use this technique for flowers and leaves. Suspend one or more fine-weave window screens between two chairs or better yet two accordion folding laundry racks so you can have several levels going. Carefully lay the plant material on the screening in a single layer with space in between each sprig. Leave them in a non-dusty place until dry, usually a week or so. Store in glass jars.
•Paper bag: This method works well if you’re worried about dust accumulation on your herbs. It is best for woody-stemmed varieties such as lavender, sage, or rosemary. Tie the harvested branches into bundles and place them in a paper bag with a few holes for ventilation. Label the bag with the herb name and date. Tie up the top of the bag and let them dry in a warm, dry place for a few weeks, checking every week to make sure they aren’t molding or rotting. If you’re worried about dust accumulation on the herbs, this method works great.
•Microwave or low oven: This method may sound very inorganic, but a zap of the microwave is the most efficient way to dry more tender-leaved herbs like parsley, basil and mint. Each variety will require a different cooking time. Start at 10 seconds with a single test sprig and add time if necessary. Once the timing is worked out, then dry the sprigs in a single layer in batches. Let the leaves stand outside the microwave for a few minutes before you judge if they need more time or not. You can also dry herbs on baking sheets in a conventional oven for a few hours at 140 degrees with the door slightly ajar. However, that’s a long time to run the oven.
•Salt-drying method: Certain moist, tender leaves like basil are notoriously hard to dry since they either mold or wilt to a flavorless husk. By packing these herbs in salt, which draws out moisture from their leaves, you can preserve the flavor and even some of the color. Take a canning or Weck jar with a sealed top and add ½ inch or so of kosher salt. Add washed and dried leaves in layers, alternating with layers of salt, until the jar is full. The leaves will stay surprisingly supple and flavorful for months. Take leaves out as you need them and brush off the excess salt. I don’t find that the salt becomes scented with the herb flavor, (lovely as that would be, but you can reuse the salt). Another idea is to take a few leaves of basil or mint and pulse them with several tablespoons of salt in the food processor to make an herbal salt. Properly stored, the herbs will stay flavorful this way as well.
•Freezing: Not really a drying method, but many herbs such as chives, curry-leaf, dill, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, lovage, and mint freeze very well. Wash the leaves only if the herbs are dirty, dry them well, and place small bundles in plastic freezer bags. Once frozen, the leaves are best if used right from the freezer and added to the pot without thawing. Another well-known method is to freeze finely chopped herbs in ice trays full of water and then pop the herb cubes into a bag. These can also go right into a soup or stew.