CHICOPEE, Mass. (Mass Appeal) – Drying and storing your herbs can not only make them last all throughout the winter but it can save you a lot of money. Shari Petrucci from the Western Mass Masters Garderners Association showed us how to dry and store your herbs!
Drying and Preserving Herbs
Though fresh herb leaves may be picked anytime during the growing season, drying and preserving them is best done in batches just before they flower because the essential oils will then be in their peak. Different herbs will flower at different times which will make collecting them not so overwhelming if everything came to prime all at once.
The best time of day to harvest is midmorning after the dew has evaporated but the heat of the midday sun has not forced the oils out of the leaves. It is at this time the potency and flavor of the herb will be at its’ best. I like to rinse mine off with the hose the evening before to make sure they are clean and fresh. Leaves are most tender and sweet when the plant is young and the stems will not be as woody.
As soon as the leaf has been separated from the plant, metabolic changes begin and the cuttings will begin to wilt. The sooner drying begins, the better the color and quality of the dried herb will be. The speed should be limited however, as the moisture must be removed gradually from the plant to preserve the essential oils.
Choose a warm, dry, dark situation with adequate ventilation- a linen closet, warm loft or garden shed for example. Hang stems of leaves such as sage, rosemary, savory, and thyme in small bunches, tied with string. Do not pack stems too tightly together, as air needs to circulate through and around the bunch. Hang them upside down and leave undisturbed until adequately dry. Avoid drying strongly flavored herbs such as lovage close to others, as their flavor may spread. When drying is complete, the leaves should be paper-dry and fragile. Depending on the temperature and the thickness of leaves, this process can take from 1 to 2 weeks.
Small batches or whole larger leaves such as bay or sage may be laid on muslin, cheesecloth or a clean grease screen over a wire cooling rack so air can circulate freely. I usually cover mine with a thin layer of cheesecloth to keep off dust and place them on top of the fridge where it is warm and dry and air is circulating from the motor of the refrigerator. This method can take only a few days due to the warm moving air.
Speed drying large quantities of herbs can be done easily and efficiently with an electric dehydrator. This is my favorite method with large batches to store over winter. Most dehydrators come with instructions for drying herbs. Follow individual manufacturer instructions.
I do not recommend oven drying or microwave drying.
Once dried, strip the stems of their leaves. Keep them whole so they retain their scent and goodness for as long as possible. Break them up only if you have to fit them in jars. Crush them just before using. Leaves should be stored in airtight glass bottles, tins, or recycled plastic herb contains that have been designed to preserve freshness and not create a chemical reaction. Keep away from sunlight, moisture and dust. Label containers with the name of the herb and the date. The herbs shall keep for 1 year.
If you notice any condensation within a day or two, the herbs were not dried enough. Remove them immediately and dry them further. Check the containers periodically throughout the year and if you notice any mold, moisture or insects, discard them promptly.
Put excess dried herbs in potpourri, herb bags or on an open fire in the fireplace or outdoors on a fire pit. Still have some left? Put them on a compost heap.