If you like to cook, then you’ve probably already realized that not all dried herbs are the same. How many of us have old jars of little-used herbs that have been sitting around for years in our cupboards? And how often do we find when we go to use them that they are practically tasteless, odorless, and … useless?
Drying herbs at home is one of our favorite things to do in the summer. Of course, it works better if you have your own herb garden, and really, there is no excuse not to! Most herbs can be grown successfully inside, and there are even herb growing gardens (like the AeroGarden) that allow for growing in low-light homes.
I grow an assortment of herbs every year in our garden. Even during summer when I can’t muster the energy for fruits or vegetables, I always grow herbs. Many of them are perennial and sprout up again for me year after year, and I have found these are the best ones for drying: oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, marjoram.
Others I always have to replant in the spring, even if it’s been a mild winter, and I find that these do not dry well: basil, mint, parsley, and tarragon. These I prefer to either freeze or make into a pesto at the end of the growing season.
There are many ways to dry herbs, including in the oven or in the microwave, but I prefer to air dry them in bundles. I do this for two reasons. First, it is easy. You just cut the herbs, shake off any dirt or bugs (or give them a quick rinse if necessary, although my herbs are organic and home-grown so I usually don’t bother), tie them with a pretty string and hang them out of the sun to dry.
Second, they are beautiful. What could be a better decoration for your kitchen then small bundles of herby goodness hanging ready to use?
The herbs generally dry quickly, within a few days or a week at the most. (Sage takes a bit longer than other herbs). If it’s an herb I use often, I simply leave it hanging. When I need some for a recipe I rub some off directly from the dried bundles. Of course, as I use it the bundle gets smaller and a bit straggly looking, but even that I enjoy!
If it’s an herb that I don’t use regularly, or if I have a lot of it, then I use my fingers or a mortar and pestle to crush the herbs before storing in small glass jars.
Some of my herbs grow so quickly in the summer that I am constantly cutting them back to keep them from taking over. Of course I don’t want to throw them out, so I dry these, and if I find myself with too many herbs, they make a lovely gift for my friends. You can bottle them up to give them, but I usually just string a few bundles together to give them as a bouquet of assorted dried herbs.
I’ve even taught my kids to do the work for me. They enjoy harvesting the herbs, tying them up and watching the drying process, and they enjoy crushing them and bottling them as well.
The advantage, of course, of drying your own herbs at home is that you can do it again and again, always replenishing your supply with tasty, fresh dried herbs. Say goodbye to those old herbs in the cupboard, and say hello to flavor!
By Peg Kern
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