Herbs are an excellent addition to any garden–they take up relatively little space even when flourishing, and you’ll love using fresh home-grown herbs in your dishes. Herbs also provide a great opportunity to teach young ones that we can grow our own food, even when you have little growing area. However, it can be stressful trying to use all your harvested herbs before the leaves begin to die—if they are not cooked within one or two days, raw herbs shrivel and lose their flavor. While it is ideal to use your herbs fresh for maximum flavor, preserving some is also an option. By drying herbs and storing excess herbs properly, you’ll enjoy flavor that will last for years to come.
Growing and Drying Herbs
First, what makes herbs taste so good? Herbs contain oils that provide powerful flavor and scent. Many of these oils are harvested and made into essential oils such as spearmint, lavender, lemongrass, and chamomile, for medicinal purposes. The amount of oils contained in the herbs change as they grow–it is important to harvest each herb when the oil has reached its peak to get the most and highest-quality flavor. Harvest times vary for different herbs depending on which part of the plant you use for cooking; however, most herbs should be harvested before they flower. Once the plant blooms, its flavor lessens and becomes more bitter. You can delay flowering by pinching off the buds as they form, meaning you get a bigger, more flavorful harvest.
Once you have harvested, you must begin drying herbs as quickly as possible. Your first instinct may be to set them in a sunny window, but this will only result in shriveled, unusable herbs. To properly dry them, use one of these methods:
Bundle: When harvesting herbs with long stems, cut them close to the soil. Create small bundles by tying the stems together at the bottom and hanging the bundles upside down in a dark, well-ventilated room. Keeping the bundle size small is critical–it allows enough airflow to dry all the plants thoroughly. Plus, bundles look beautiful hanging from a kitchen wall or doorway!
Screen or Mat: Lay plant material in a single layer on a screen, mat, or other breathable material that will allow airflow from underneath. Set in a dark room to dry.
Paper bag: Similar to the screen, lay whatever plant material you’ve harvested in a single layer inside the bag. This method provides the extra benefit of protecting the drying herbs from dust collecting.
Your herbs should be completely dry in less than a week regardless of which method you choose. Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage will dry easily since they naturally contain less moisture. When drying basil or mint leaves, pay close attention to make sure they don’t begin to grow mold. The faster you can dry them, the better. You will know that you have successfully dried your herbs when they retain much of their original color and still smell great! Once they are dry, place your herbs into containers you can seal tightly, such as a mason jar or recycled plastic spice shaker.
The team at Big Earth Landscape Supply knows there are few things more satisfying than growing your own herbs and food. Stop one of our 4 area locations to pick up the containers, pallets, soil and gardening tools you’ll need to successfully harvest delicious plants for your table.