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Saturday, June 12, 2010
A simple process which takes us back in time is the technique our mothers and grandmothers used. They would use attic rafters or a back room on the north side of the house to dry their herbs. Their home was their work place and every possible space was used. All that was needed was an area with low light and an opened window for ventilation. Air conditioning, if available, was a bonus because it sped up the drying process by removing humidity.
Leaves should be dried while on the stems. Bundle your material and wrap a string around the bottom of the stems and then hang them upside down for drying. The bundles should be small for faster drying time and can be hung from rafters or on the wall using push pins. Large bundles take longer to dry and can collect a lot of dust or can become moldy.
Another method is to place the plant material loosely in a paper sack into which a good number of holes have been punched in the sides for ventilation. Tie the top with a string and hang to dry. This serves to keep the dust from the plant material and allows for something suitable for labeling.
Attach an identification tag on your materials that are drying so that you can identify them later. Some herbs can look the same once they have been dried.
Another great idea for drying small amounts of material is to place it into a wicker style basket that has been lined with paper towels. The basket can be placed on a table out of direct sunlight. The material should be fluffed every now and then to prevent settling.
Once dried, leaves are easily removed by stripping them from the stems. Sometimes you may have to grind the stems along with the leaves, such as the case with thyme. It can be tedious to strip its tiny leaves, so the dried stems and leaves are both ground for use. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.
To harvest seeds, such as dill, place a paper bag over the seed head, then snip from the plant. You should attempt to get the seeds just before they have turned completely dark, and they are still attached to the plant. Once they begin falling, they go rather quickly. If a few seeds fall from the head when it is gently tapped, then it is time to harvest.
Another method of drying a lot of material at one time is to do it in an electric oven. If your oven can maintain a temperature between 80-90 deg. F, then you can dry your herbs on a cookie sheet. I do not prefer this method because of the cost involved of running an electric oven. But, if you need to dry a lot of material quickly, then this method may be for you. The herb is dry and ready for storage when the leaves crackle between your fingers.
Ideally, you should invest in a dehydrator if you plan to store a great many herbs. This is almost essential for roots. Cut the roots into small pieces, or sliced thin. It also makes the whole harvest ready for storage in a very short time. Try to get one that will operate without heat or has a thermostat.
After approximately one year, dried herbs begin to lose their potency and flavor, so they should be replaced by a fresh harvest every year. Some herbs can last longer than one year. Most herbs can be placed in plastic bags and fresh frozen. Basil will develop a dark color, but the taste will be unaffected.