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Tutorial: Drying Garden Herbs

October 7, 2011

Now that fall is (v.e.r.y.  s.l.o.w.l.y.) approaching in Colorado, I’ve started reaping the last of the garden’s produce. While we still have tons of tomatoes on the plants, they are ripening very slowly. The chances of a fried green tomatoes fiesta are high. I’m patiently waiting for the butternut, acorn squash and pumpkin to be ready to pick. In the meantime, I’ve been making pesto and freezing it in half-pint jars and drying herbs.

Herbs are at their best right before they flower, as most of the plant’s oils are still in the leaves at that point. As soon as you see the first little flowers appear, it’s time to start picking a drying! Here’s the simple run-down on how you dry them:

  1. Cut the herbs as soon as you see flowers appearing (although, keep in mind that you don’t have to wait, or that you can’t harvest after it’s in full bloom).
  2. Bring ’em in and wash ’em. I usually submerge them in a sink full of water and swish them around, then I give them a spin in the salad spinner.
  3. You’ll want to give them a chance to dry off from their bath very thoroughly before you continue. I’ve read that if you try to bundle them while still wet mold and mildew can develop. This isn’t a problem I have in Colorado, but some of you in more humid climates might want to be wary. I usually just lay mine out on tea towels and let them air dry on the kitchen counter overnight.     
  4. Now, there are two kinds of herbs, those that have sturdier stems (i.e.: rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano) and those that are a bit more limp, with a higher moisture content (i.e. peppermint, spearmint, basil). For the sturdier ones, you’ll want gather them up in bunches (I tied mine with twine) and then rubber band them, upside down, in paper bags (I used lunch sacks-see pic below). This will keep them clean and provide a dark place for them (which helps to protect the flavor) as they dry. They’ll need to stay in these bags for a few weeks to be completely dry. For the other guys, turn your oven on to it’s lowest setting (mine won’t go any lower than 170 degrees). As it’s preheating, spread the herbs out on cookie sheets. As soon as the oven has reached it’s temperature turn it off and slip the herbs inside. Turn the oven on to it’s lowest heat twice a day until your herbs have dried. (I usually stick them in at night and they are done by the next evening).
  5. Once they are completely dry you can remove the leaves from the stems and move them into a more permanent storage container. They won’t ever go bad, but they will start to lose their potency after a year or so.

You’ll want to make sure that you get to your herbs before the first frost comes, which might be this weekend for Colorado, so make sure you get them before the cold weather does!

This year I’m most excited about the peppermint I’ve dried. I have visions of sitting on my couch, cozied up with my cat as I knit and drink tea made from the peppermint I grew in my garden over the summer.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 7, 2011 10:33 am

    This is so helpful! I have watched my basil flower and I’ve wondered what in the world I’m supposed to do with it now… Yay! Thanks, friend!

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