Something that occupies space in many of our veggie gardens are herbs. No matter what dish you are preparing, the addition of herbs can really make it pop, enhancing taste and aroma. Whether it is basil, rosemary, or cilantro you like the most, sparing space in the garden to grow herbs is a decision you won’t regret.
Once you’ve grown a crop of herbs, it is essential that they are stored properly as a means to preserve and use them use them over time. Since herbs are used in small amounts, a little bit goes a long way, and it is possible that you will have them on hand for several months. An easy way to prepare herbs for storage is by drying which increases longevity and makes for easy storage.
In order to get started on the herb drying process, you first want to harvest them. The ideal time to do this is when flowers first appear. Pick herbs once morning dew is no longer present and avoid making too much contact with leaves in order to prevent wilting or bruising. After your harvest is complete, the drying process can begin.
There are a few different ways you can go about drying herbs. A popular method is to use a dehydrator to speed the process up while at the same time controlling air temperature and circulation. The temperature at which drying is done will vary by climate, so be sure to use a temperature that corresponds with where you live. Dehydrators are a quick option, but if you don’t have a few hours to spare, you can use a microwave by simply following the instructions for your particular model.
If you do not have access to a dehydrator, you can break leaves free from stems and dry them individually. Simply lay stems on paper towels for drying, covering with a second paper towel, being sure to lay leaves flat. If you have a lot of herbs to dry, this can be done in layers in order to conserve space. Another way to conserve space is to hang herbs to dry. Simply attach a string and hang in a cool, dry place and give them a couple days to dry.
Another neat idea for herb drying is to use portable mesh hampers. These have handles from which they can be hung when in use but folded up for convenient storage when not needed. To use this process, simply place herbs in the bottom of the hamper and suspend it in an area where it will get plenty of air circulation but will not get wet. Simply agitate periodically and you should have dried herbs within a few days.
Although some do use the practice of sun drying, there are drawbacks associated with doing so. Quick though the process can be, sun drying can actually leech color from herbs as they dry. It has also been known to draw out some of the flavor, making herbs less potent and requiring the use of more to achieve the same effect.
Once your herbs are dry, they can be crushed down and stored. An easy way to do this is to simply place them in a plastic Ziploc type bag and carefully crush them inside. Although crushing by hand is effective, you can use a coffee grinder to crush them more finely if you wish. After the crushing process is complete, relocate them to their final storage container and location which should be in a cool area away from too much light.
Whether it is coriander, mint, parsley, or something else that you enjoy, go ahead and make some space in the veggie garden to scratch that itch. You will soon find that you have delicious herbs to dry that will compliment your every dish. Enjoy!