Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Time to Dry Herbs

Today is the perfect day to cut herbs--sunny and dry. I grabbed my scissors and basket and headed out to the gardens. I don't have all my herbs in one garden; I prefer to scatter them in amidst other flowers as well as having a bed that is predominantly herbs because I just like the way herbs look when mixed with other plants.

Herbs should be cut prior to blooming for strongest flavor, and dry sunny weather will reduce any chance of molding before they dry. I noticed that my sage was getting to bloom stage, and that several other herbs were ready to be cut as well.

A bountiful basket of herbs ready to dry: sage, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, peppermint and oregano. (My rosemary, sadly, didn't make it through the winter again. I plant a new plant each year, trying different locations to see if I can find one where the plant will winter over, but so far no luck.)

I separated each kind of herb into bundles and wrapped the ends with a rubber band. The rubber band needs to be very tight because as the herbs dry they will shrink and the band can become so loose the drying stems will slip out of it.

I used florist wire for hangers, but any thin wire or even string can be used to make a hanger for each bunch.

Last step: hang to dry in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. This window in my kitchen has always been my favorite place to use for drying herbs because it faces out to the porch and never gets direct sun.

About 30 years ago when an old house was being torn down in Ripley, we saw the rack I now use out on the scrap heap to be thrown away. The man doing the work gave it to me, and I've used it as my herb drying rack ever since. I believe it was a towel airing rack, probably used in the bathroom to hang towels after a bath. It's made of oak and very sturdy.

When the herbs are completely dry, I'll take them down, crush each bunch separately and store in jars in the cabinet (again, out of direct light so they don't lose their color).

And that's it! No electricity or gas used, no expensive packaging or processing. I used to dry them in my oven when I had a gas oven with a pilot light (the pilot light gave off just enough heat to dry them beautifully). But I prefer the hanging method because they look so pretty hanging in the window, and it's so simple.

I often make up my own blends of herbs when they've dried, mixing oregano, parsley and thyme together, for example, or various mints for teas.

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