Not to be a downer, but all things are inevitably temporary. That would also include your supply of fresh herbs. Chances are, you’ve got some herbs somewhere in the garden. I know I’ve got a pile that just didn’t really get used up. But this is the time that I decide to actually harvest and dry them so I’ll have something for the winter. Nothing compares to fresh herbs, but if you preserve them properly, you’ll have enough to get you through the winter and spring until you get your hands on the fresh stuff again.
The easiest way to dry herbs is to get your hands on a dehydrator appliance. I got mine from walmart. You can get high end ones, solar types, or just the plug in type that sits on your counter. You’ll have one as soon as you realize you can make beef jerky with it. I’ll leave you alone to think about that for a few minutes.
The first thing I will tell you about drying herbs is you will probably not have enough. Don’t be stingy when collecting, you will use it! And you will likely find you got less of a yield from what you collected than you hoped. Make a week long event out of it. Each day, you can dedicate the day to a certain herb, and by the end of the day, you’ll have enough bottled, and can plan for the next day. Minty Mondays. Thyme Tuesdays. ..Woregano Wedndesdays.. you get the idea. I realize I am a little late posting my weekly update, but today is minty Monday, and I love mint tea. I will be using mint as my example today.
(By the way, dry twice as much oregano as you think you need because you will use it. I always regret not having enough oregano by December.)
Read your dehydrator’s instructions. I, for one, have misplaced my manual, but there’s a magical place called the internet that can give you roughly the correct temperatures and durations for drying different herbs. Although it isn’t for me, that book should be kept with your cookbooks. There will be specifications on herbs, fruit, vegetables and other items, and how long, how hot/cool the dial should be set at. Try to resist drying everything in sight. For mint, in this case (and for most herbs except for basil) I will be putting entire stems on the trays and drying them at 35-40 degrees celcius, for 6-8 hours. When the herbs are dry, you will only have to pick the dry leaves from the stems and discard the stems.
Collect herbs in the morning. Your herbs will be the least stressed, less wilted by the heat of the sun. All the goodness is still there before the sun bakes the crap out of it for the day. That’s another reason I wait until August to start harvesting. The heat is a little less extreme for collecting.
“Processing” for dehydration is probably the most labour intensive and picky part of the operation. You will have to really rinse them off well. I found a little green worm rollin’ down the drain along with his frass and bits of dirt. After the rinse, you have to really shake them off to get all the excess water. Then you will want to pat the herbs dry, as this really helps the drying process along a little more.
After the pat dry, you’re going to look over your stems and look for imperfections that you don’t want to eat. Pick those leaves off. You’ll have to cut your stems to fit on the tray so no stems are overlapping. I know mine are a bit, and actually, next time I will probably take extra time to pull the biggest leaves off and lay them out single layer, since they are so easy to pull off. In the process of picking over, you will find other unwelcome surprises, like shedded exoskeletons, yucky brown/black shriveled leaf margins, and I usually don’t want to eat something that’s already been munched by a perpetrator. You’ll probably also find bits of frass that need a re-rinse off the leaves. All of this is expected.
Once you have your herbs arranged (artistic liberties can be taken here, but there must be an emphasis on space efficiency), fire up the dehydrator and leave it alone for a while. It’s a good time to dump out the old stuff from the jar if you had some left over (you shouldn’t really keep herbs for more than 3-6 months anyway, as they lose their freshness over time). I know, realistically, this is just not common, and I’m sure even I have some 2 year old dried up bags of something in the back of the cupboard. I’m working to improve that!
Once they are dried, you will now pluck the leaves from the stems and you can do one of two things at this point: choose either whole leaf, or crush them, either by crumbling in your fingers or with a mortar and pestle. You can do a bit of both. Or leave them whole, and crush them later if the recipe calls for it.
Always store herbs in a cool, dry place. It’s not a good idea to leave them out in the open, exposed to sunlight, or above the stove, as both of these locations will quickly degrade the quality of your product.
Now that you’ve dried your herbs, you now have another really nice gift idea for your friends! You can even mix herbs together to make seasonings. You can try dried lemon zest with dill (with a little kosher salt), or basil and oregano for pizza sauce. Be silly, or creative.
When the herb harvest is over, it doesn’t have to end there. I am serious. Home made jerky is a wonderful thing. And so are apple rings…banana chips? Oh yes.
I didn’t grow as many herbs as I hoped I would this year (and no Oregano, sadly!) but I have grown many herbs in my previous home and it’s a bit of work but there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing your herbs come from your own garden. It’s a nice down day weekend project.
Next week, I’ll be looking at my turning circle. Maybe. It’s time to start digging in and see if my drawing is going to go as I hope it will.