Herbal Interests | Drying + Preserving Fresh Herbs
Growing fresh herbs is a part of my lifestyle that I don't think I will ever be able to part with. It was over a year ago that I started growing my first set of herbs on my dining room table in little clay pots. Now, I have a flourishing garden filled to the brim with over 18 varieties, all of them used day in and day out. It's amazing! I love finding new ways to use these gorgeous and useful plants, but even more than that, I actually just love going out into the garden and touching them, smelling the scent they leave behind on my fingers. Is that weird? Often times, I'll pick them and don't really have a specific use, I just like having them around my home drying because it's pretty and the smell is absolutely amazing. If you are tending to your herb garden carefully and keeping up with regular pruning, then you'll be able to do the same as I! A little green hanging from the peg rack in my dining room makes me feel like I am living in a different time. Maybe one day I'll have a place of my own to make feel even more like an 19th century kitchen. Love those vibes.
I want to share with you how I dry and store herbs, whether they end up being dehydrated or preserved fresh for different types of dishes. You can dry herbs of any kind, but sometimes it's nice to keep those lovely little greens fresh for certain dishes. I've been researching and looking more and more into how we can preserve all sorts of vegetables from our garden this year, whether that's canning, freezing, or drying. I hope to put more guides together throughout the rest of summer and into fall. It will be so lovely! If you missed my guide on how to trim herbs properly, then click here.
When it comes to drying herbs, I don't really believe that you need much more equipment other than some twine and a hook. There are various ways that you can get the job done, but more often than not, I just hang mine upside down for a couple of days. It really works the best, especially for my schedule! Which does not lend its way towards time spent in front of the oven for hours. To best dry your herbs, you'll want to harvest them at mid-morning. This is when the essential oils, which give the herbs their potency and properties you want inside your body, have not yet been burned off by the heat of the day. If you're growing your herbs organically like we are, then there's really no need to wash them unless you spot a critter, or they are somehow heavily covered in dirt. Because of this, there won't be a whole lot of moisture trapped inside the leaves, so the drying process will be much faster.
If you are planning to harvest herbs for something other than their leaves, like flowers or seeds, then there are a few things you should be wary of. Make sure you are harvesting flowers that have new flowers, like a day or two old, the ones that have just bloomed. These have the most potent oils! If you are harvesting seeds, wait until the flower heads have begun to turn brown. This is the best time to get them.
To dry your herbs, tie them in a bundle from the stem with a bit of baker's twine and hang them upside down somewhere in your home that is warm, dry, and has good air circulation. For the best results, don't pile the bundles too thickly, or tie them in a layered look if you want the same variety all together. My favorite place to hang herbs is on my peg rack or on my new herb drying chandelier that Jill bought me! If you can't do this, then try drying them on a cooling rack covered in a thin kitchen towel or cheesecloth. You'll want to do this in a place with some indirect sunlight and turn them over occasionally throughout the day so all sides of the herb dries.
While you can dry a majority of your herbs, sometimes it's nice to have fresh options over the winter. Growing herbs in your kitchen window is nice, but they just don't grow the same as they do outside in the dirt, or even just in the summer if they are being grown indoors. I was having a heck of a time last winter keeping my herbs from drooping or becoming yellow last winter! You can keep some fresh herbs on hand by freezing them in oil. Yes! It's incredibly easy. Pick your favorite herbs, preferably the more fleshy ones like basil, oregano, thyme, parsley, and cilantro. Chop them up somewhat finely and place them in an ice cube tray or silicone mold. Cover them in vegetable oil, like olive or coconut, whichever you prefer. Then freeze until the oil has set and you can store them in plastic bags in your freezer! These work really well to add to soups, stews, and even sautéed dishes. Trust me! I'll be starting this practice soon to preserve my little plant babies!
To store your dried herbs, you can either can them whole or crush them up lightly with a mortar and pestle. Don't crumble them too much, as whole leaves hold onto their essential oils much better than small ones! Store in a container with an airtight seal such as a mason jar and keep it in your pantry.
Which herbs are your favorite? This year, I've been loving growing lemon balm. It smells so good when I bring it in the house. I actually have been using it more often than not as an addition to flower bouquets because the leaves are so pretty, and again, it smells divine. Definitely try growing it if you haven't before!