Drying Culinary Herbs

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Oh, my aching muscles...

Enjoy an herbal harvest all year long
Now that those herb plants have taken over the garden, it is time to harvest. Following these easy guidelines will make your herbs a delightful reminder of your summer herb garden—all winter long. These tips can be used for tarragon, thyme, rosemary, sage, winter or summer savory, lavender and fennel, basil, and many more.

•Harvest herbs when flower buds have formed, but not fully developed. Keep basil pinched back to discourage flower buds from forming at all.

• Harvest in morning to midday, after the dew is off the plants, and the sun has warmed them, but not dried them out or wilted them.

• Cut stems four to six inches long, depending on the plant. Cut back to a leaf node.

• Bunch 6 to 15 stems—fewer if soft, more if woody. Secure tightly with twist ties or rubber bands.

• Hang herb bunches in a warm dark place, out of direct sun, with good air circulation—you can use a fan.

• You can also hang bunches upside down in paper bags with the opening snugly wrapped around the ends of the stems. Cut holes in the bag to allow air circulation. Use this method if there is no appropriate place to hang herbs out of direct sunlight.

• Drying outside or in an unheated garage works poorly because too much moisture is absorbed by herb leaves during cool nights.

• At temperatures between 70 and 95 Fahrenheit, herbs should be dry in two to three weeks. Thyme and rosemary take less, basil and sage may take more.

• Food dehydrators and microwave ovens can also be used successfully.

• When herbs are dry enough to crumble, they can be safely stored without getting moldy.

I store my dried herbs in glass jars in a cupboard. Dried herbs can hold their flavor for years, but are easily renewed annually at harvest time.

Harvesting small bunches throughout the growing season makes the job easier and can add up to quite a few jars of dried herbs at the end of the harvest. For the best flavor, store your dried herb leaves whole and crumble them as you add the herbs to your food.

Herbal Seasonings
The easy seasoning blends that follow make very special hostess and holiday gifts from your herb garden. These blends can be prepared in quantity or from your herbs on hand as needed while cooking.

Italian Blend
Equal parts oregano, parsley and basil, one-half part rosemary and thyme. Use this on pizza or omelettes.

Fish Seasoning
Equal parts parsley, fennel and lemon thyme, a small sprinkle of tarragon and 6 to 10 coriander seeds per tablespoon of herb mixture. Combine with butter or olive oil for broiling or baking, add to stock for poaching fish.

Salad Seasoning
Equal parts salad burnet, thyme, and oregano. Add a small amount of sage flowers and crushed coriander seeds. Rub into a fine powder and add to greens or oil and vinegar for pleasant flavor.

These are only a few of the ways you can tastefully combine herb flavors to enhance meals from your summer herb garden all year long.

NWGN archive story published September 1996

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