If you grow herbs in your garden, why not dry them so that you can savor them all year long? They’ll make your cooking much more special than supermarket herbs. You even can give them as gifts. How to do it right…
Pick When Flavor Is at a Peak
Herbs taste best when the plant is primarily producing foliage, not flowers. So pick them before they bloom or at least as soon as you see early blooms appear. Look carefully—herb flowers can be tiny and often not very colorful. More tips…
Harvest in late morning as soon as the dew is dry. Levels of volatile oils, which give herbs their flavor and fragrance, peak early in the day.
Clip stems with sharp scissors or light pruners, not with your bare hands. If you use your hands, it’s easy to yank off a stem, disturb the roots, even pull out the whole plant. Plus, cutting cleanly is better for the plant.
Rinse off your harvest, and pat dry thoroughly with paper towels.
Dry, Don’t Rot
Drying mistakes can lead to rot or mold. Keys to success: Moderately high heat (80°F to 90°F), and a dim or dark setting so light doesn’t degrade the oils, and good air circulation to whisk away moisture. Good options: A spot in a hot, dry attic, garage, enclosed porch, shed, closet or cupboard. (None of the above if the air is humid!) The best drying method? It depends on what you’re drying…
For large-leaved herbs such as basil, mint and comfrey: Screening. Prop up a screen or rack so that air can circulate from below. Arrange stems or leaves in a single layer, not touching. Warning: Don’t use a galvanized metal screen—the metal can react with plant acids to form toxic compounds. But a regular household window screen should be fine—it usually is made of plastic or coated wire.
For medium-leaved herbs such as parsley, cilantro and sage or dill: Bundles. Perhaps you’ve admired this technique somewhere—jaunty bundles of herbs hanging upside down. Your kitchen, alas, probably is not the right spot, because it’s too bright. And dangling bundles along a wall won’t allow enough air circulation. If you have rafters—especially in a hot, dry, dark spot such as an attic—that’s perfect. Bundles of 10 to 12 stems work well, allowing the necessary air circulation. Secure firmly by the stems with rubber bands, then hang the bundles from a hook or nail.
For small-leaved herbs such as thyme and summer savory: Paper bags. Place the herbs into lunch-size paper bags, and cinch the tops with a stapler. To allow air circulation, cut a few slits along the sides. It’s already dark inside the bag, so any hot, dry area is fine.
Herbs usually dry in a week or two when conditions are correct. Check them: Leaves should be crumbly, not leathery. Store your home-dried herbs at room temperature in canisters with tight lids.