I shared my herb spiral and how to build your own in the last blog, so this week I thought I'd talk about how to dry your fragrant, savory herbs!
I always cut my herbs in the morning (when the essential oils are most abundant) if I'm harvesting for drying. This ensures an aromatic and flavorful harvest.
Here's what the National Center for Home Food Preservation advises:
"The best time to harvest most herbs for drying is just before the flowers first open when they are in the bursting bud stage. Gather the herbs in the early morning after the dew has evaporated to minimize wilting. Avoid bruising the leaves. They should not lie in the sun or unattended after harvesting. Rinse herbs in cool water and gently shake to remove excess moisture. Discard all bruised, soiled or imperfect leaves and stems."
Be sure to harvest half of the plant or less so you will be able to enjoy more harvests during the summer, and have fresh herbs available for cooking when you need them.
Cut your herbs with a sharp knife or shears.
Once you've cut your herbs, you can choose from several drying methods, although all require warm, dry air. (It is recommended to wash your herbs before drying them, but I generally don't. If I find bugs or dirt while handling them, those stems end up in the compost. I think a few soil microorganisms are good for me.)
Method 1: bundle the herb stems (not too many, or you may get mold) and hold with a rubber band or twine. I prefer using rubber bands as the stems shrink as they dry, and I can easily re-tighten the bands. I use paper clips to hang the bunches from string. I have hung my herbs both in the house and outside, but it is recommended to keep the herbs out of the sun while drying for stronger flavor. I hung mine under the deck, so they would only get early morning sun.
Method 2: Lay flat to dry in a single layer. I bought poster paper and covered the dining room table, then arranged the herbs with space between them for air flow.
Another option is to build your own herb drying rack such as this one my husband built for me. This is a superior method because it allows for more air flow, and protects the herbs from dust and debris, or bird droppings if left outdoors while they're drying. Its drawback is that it's limited in size and the amount of herbs it can hold. But, you can build yours any size you like! (That's our half Pyrenees dog Leonidas in the background.)
Try to keep the cat off the rack while your herbs are drying (Sassafras is loving his personal hammock).
Method 3: Dry in a low temp. oven. I don't recommend this method, and have never tried it. If you don't have a convection oven, you'll need to keep the door propped open for air circulation, and you must place your herbs on a wire rack, not a cookie sheet...again, for air circulation. Keep the temp. somewhere between 140 and 160 degrees F. Check the herbs every 30 minutes until they are done, about 2-4 hours.
Whichever method you choose, your herbs are ready when they are crispy-dry rather than pliant, and you can crush them between your fingers. There should not be any feeling of moisture. At this point you can crush the herbs or store the leaves whole in airtight containers. Make sure to store them somewhere that is cool, dry, and dark to maintain pungency.
If you are interested in making your own herb drying rack there are several types online that you can search, but here are some pics of mine (it's basically two screens sandwiched between layers of wood and hinged to close):
Enjoy a bountiful herb harvest this summer!