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How to Dry & Preserve Herbs For Later Use

Drying and storing garden herbs is one of the best ways to enjoy their flavor throughout the year, and it allows you to save money instead of buying prepackaged herbs at the supermarket.  Just about every herb can be dried and preserved for later use, however some leafy herbs store better than others.  This process works best with herbs that don’t have high moisture content, such as bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.  Herbs with broad, flat leaves and high moisture content, such as cilantro, parsley, chervil, and basil do not dry as well and are often best when used fresh.

Harvesting Herbs

The best time to harvest herbs is when the oils responsible for their flavor and aroma are at their peak. The longer after their peak you wait to harvest most herbs, the less flavor they will have.  Proper timing will vary depending on the specific herb you are harvesting and its intended use. Herbs grown for their foliage, such as chives, should be harvested before they flower, as flowering can cause the herbs to develop an off-flavor.

Some general guidelines to follow include:

·      Harvest herbs just before the plant flowers to ensure flavors are at their strongest.

·      Harvest plants early in the morning, after the dew dries from the leaves, but before the heat of the afternoon sun.

·      Herb flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.

·      Harvest tarragon or lavender flowers in early summer and then shear the plants to half their height to encourage a second flowering period in the fall.

Preserving Herbs

The most commonly used method for curing herbs is by allowing the leaves or entire stems to air-dry at room temperature.  If the herbs are dirty, first rinse away any debris, shake off the excess water, then spread the herbs out to dry on paper towels or dishcloths and pat them gently until dry.  Remove any dead or damaged foliage, then tie each bunch together into small bundles with string and hang them upside down in a dark, well ventilated room where temperatures typically range between 70-90°F. Be sure to make small, loose bundles and allow for good air circulation around each bunch.  Herb leaves should dry in three to four days under proper conditions.

With herbs that have large leaves and high moisture content, such as basil, mint, lemon balm, and lemon verbena, strip away the leaves from the stems before drying them. Spread these leaves in single layers for quickest drying. Herbs with smaller leaves, such as thyme, oregano and marjoram can be dried with the leaves still on the stems, then strip away the leaves after the drying process is complete.

In humid weather, it may be necessary to place the herbs on a cookie sheet and dry them in an oven at 125°F for several minutes before storing them in an airtight container. Food dehydrators can also be very useful for drying herbs. Follow the directions provided with the dehydrator.

Storing Herbs

After the herbs are completely dried, store them in airtight jars in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. If entire stems were dried, remove the leaves and crush or crumble them before placing them in jars.  Be sure to label and date your containers.  It is very important to have the herbs completely dry, otherwise, they may mold. It is best to use dried herbs within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.

Drying and storing garden herbs is one of the best ways to enjoy their flavor throughout the year, and it allows you to save money over buying prepackaged herbs at the supermarket.  Just about every herb can be dried and preserved for later use, however some leafy herbs store better than others.  This process works best with herbs that don’t have high moisture content, such as bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, and thyme.  Herbs with broad, flat leaves and high moisture content, such as cilantro, parsley, chervil, and basil do not dry as well and are often best when used fresh.

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