My first self-taught lesson when growing an edible garden was definitely to make sure you grow herbs! Yes, they may not receive as much attention as your prize grown tomato or pumpkin, but they are just as important. Herbs are easy, require little maintenance and add heavenly flavor to any garden grown dish you whip up. They don't need a large amount of space to thrive and can even be planted by a kitchen window for easy access when cooking. There are so many varieties of herbs that are perennials. This is a definite benefit of growing them in your culinary garden. While many veggies need to be replanted each season, your herbs will come back year after year. There are also many herbs to choose from that have helpful medicinal properties. With so many perks and uses, why not give growing herbs a try?
So herbs are easy to grow, but then what? Your plants will become healthier and stronger with a regular trim, but there is only so much fresh oregano you can throw in this week's homemade meals. The next step to becoming a full-on homegrown herb enthusiast is drying. It's very simple, and your profits are long-lasting and bountiful. It's a great way to save money, and since you grew it, there are no preservatives or additives you may not know about. There are many ways to store herbs so that they retain nutritional value as well as freshness and flavor for year-round use. Even though it isn't a difficult task, here are some tips and tricks that can help make it a breeze!
Picking Your Herbs
The first thing you want to do is get out there and start cutting! You want to do this as frequently as possible if you want to take advantage of your herbs in the summer months. I do leave some herbs to flower in my garden for the pollinators, but others I trim for optimal flavor. All you have to do is grab your clippers and head on out to your garden. Although you can cut at any time of day, the best time is morning before the hot sun is shining on them. This also makes it easier on you! No one likes harvesting in 100 degree temperatures and ending up with a sunburn. I like to give my herbs a gentle wash to remove any bugs or dirt and pat dry after cutting. It's also good to go through your harvest and pick out any discolored or dead looking leaves before you bring them in. When picking, I bring out some paper towels with me and wrap my freshly cut herbs in them until I begin the drying process. This way, if I'm busy doing other things in the garden, the paper towels will pick up any moisture I may have missed while they sit in my basket waiting for me to begin. Nobody says you can't munch on some fresh mint leaves while harvesting, and trust me it's delightful. I also rub lemon balm on my skin to keep the mosquitos at bay.
Drying Your Herbs
The next step is to bundle your herbs. Take a string or twine and bunch them together. After this, let them air dry by hanging them. Make sure you put them in a location that is warm and dry with plenty of air circulation. A room above 70 degrees is the most preferable environment. They should take a few weeks to dry out completely. Avoid any damp or dark locations for this process. You don't want to risk unhealthy mold spores growing and spoiling your green goodness. I put them in a location where I can see them all the time, and give them a once over daily. This process usually takes around two to three weeks. Any herb can be dried like this, but some say that herbs like lemon balm or mint with a high moisture content can become moldy if they don't dry quickly enough. I personally have not encountered this problem, but to bypass it you can put them in the oven. Set your oven at the lowest setting possible (under 170 degrees). Once it is heated, turn it off and place your herbs inside until dry. You may have to repeat this process a few times. Watch them closely so they do not burn. Another option is drying your herbs outside on a hot day. I take an old window screen and put them in a spot that receives a good amount of warm sunlight during the daylight hours. You want to make sure at dusk you remember to bring them inside so they don't become dewy or damp. This should take about 1 to 2 days. You will know your herbs are completely dried when they crumble easily in your hands. Remember that dried herbs can last you anywhere from one to three years if stored properly!
Storing Your Herbs
Once your herbs are completely dry, make sure to store them properly for optimum freshness. The most important factor for successful storage is finding a dry and cool location. You don't want warm anymore, but you still want dry. Also, make sure you store them in an air-tight container. Here are the few easy steps I take.
Step 1: Separating the leaves from the stem.
This process can get a bit messy, so do it on a surface with plenty of room that is easy to clean. I like to work on a flat, wooden surface for less hassle and flexibility when moving my herbs around. Yes, that is a mosquito bite on my hand. I work hard every day for my herbs and the number one obstacle is pesky insects! I can attest that it is worth it.
Here are the results from just separating the oregano from the stem. After this step, I like to achieve my desired consistency for storage using my mortar and pestle. Another way to do this is with a coffee grinder or an herb grinder. If desired, you can store the leaves just like this in a large glass jar. Then you can grind fresh when ready to use.
Step 2: Grind up your leaves
You can grind them up to desired consistency before or after storage. It is important to note that some flavor is released in the grinding process. When herbs are ground into a powder, they will lose their freshness quicker. They can last up to three months in powdered form if placed into air tight glass jars and put into a refrigerator or freezer.
Oregano ground into a more powdery consistency
Step 3: Store for later use
It is important to find the correct location for your herbs. Make sure it is dark, dry and cool. A pantry or a closet is the perfect place for this. A kitchen cabinet is another great alternative. Exposure to light and hot temperatures will break down those healthy and delicious properties you want to hold onto. I do prefer small glass jars due to space limitations. You will want to label your herbs so you don't get mixed up in a sea of green. I don't do anything fancy. I just use a regular old label maker, but it serves it's purpose. That's all there is to it! With a few easy steps, some patience and time you have your own homegrown dried herbs. You save so much money growing these annual and perennial plants yourself. Using them dried in your favorite dish tastes fresher and even better than store bought. If your crop isn't doing well, or maybe you don't have enough room to grow the desired amount, don't fret. You can always buy organic locally grown herbs from your farmers market. It's equally as delicious, so don't get down if you have space limitations or growing troubles!
Tuesdays In The Garden
This week's theme is all about preserving. It's the perfect time for it with the summer season ending soon. You may have some large crops of herbs, fruits and vegetables that you can't use right away. That's where drying and canning come into play. Shell teaches us all how to can one of my favorite fruits, peaches. I covet them here in New England where the season never seems long enough. Jami shows us how to add some zest with garlic spiced canned pickled green beans. Michelle lets us know how to freeze fresh carrots, and shares secrets for more ways to preserve them. Diane quenches our thirst by revealing how to make homemade grape juice. It's never too early to start prepping for winter hibernation mode when all this really comes in handy.
Shell | Frugal Family Home
Jami | An Oregon Cottage
Michelle | Simplify, Live, Love
Diane | Homemade Food Junkie
Thank you so much for joining us again this week! When it comes to gardening, I always learn so much by doing. It really makes you value the small things like ground herbs and spices when you go through the whole process of growing to grinding yourself. I have so much more appreciation when it comes to where flavors come from. It's so much different then just buying them from a store. One day, I'd like my very own large apothecary filled with tinctures, teas, oils and healing herbs all made using homegrown ingredients. I figure it's probably best to start small, so this is good for now! Do you have any tips when it comes to drying herbs? I'd love it if you shared with me in the comment section below. Also, feel free to tweet me pictures @thefreckledrose. Always happy to hear from you. Have fun growing, harvesting and drying your very own herbs!
In Case You Missed It - Transitioning The Garden From Summer To Fall