Lessons on drying herbs

Published 10:37 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

by Randy Moore

Gina Seward from Suffolk sent me an email asking about drying herbs.

There are two types of herb characteristics that are going to determine how you should dry your herbs. They are high water content and low water content.

Herbs high in water content are basils, chives, mint and tarragon. Herbs low in water content are bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory, thyme and salad burnett.

These are just a few in both categories that should help you get the idea of the different types.

Whether you grow your own or purchase herbs, you should always wash and pat dry with a paper towel first. If you are picking your herbs from your own garden, you should always pick in the morning while the oils are more prevalent, rinse in cool water, shake and remove bruised or imperfect leaves.

If you purchase herbs, always look for the freshest looking ones with the fewest damaged or bruised leaves.

There are many different ways to dry herbs depending on the type of herb and amount of time involved.

Air-drying takes the longest, but is the easiest and does not deplete the oils and works well with low water content herbs, but will work with all herbs.

Gather herbs, rinse, shake, pat dry, bundle together and tie together (I like to use twine as it is less apt to loosen compared to rubber bands as the herbs dry), place in a paper bag that has holes cut in it for air circulation and hang in a cool air area with good air circulation.

The bag will help to keep dust off your herbs while they are drying. Check on them every couple of weeks; they are ready when the leaves crumble when pressed between your fingers. Now you can seal in bags for later use.

Dehydrators and ovens including microwaves are fast, but you will lose some of the oil content and must be careful that you do not wind up cooking your herbs. This method works best with high water content herbs.

If you are going to use your oven, use your pilot light on gas and propane stoves, and just the light on electric stoves. Low water content herbs should only take overnight; high water content herbs will take longer.

Freezing is another method that is easy and works with all herbs when you want fresh herbs in winter. Place herbs in ice cube trays and fill half full with water, freeze, and once frozen, finish filling with water and refreeze. This will ensure that your herbs are covered.

When you need fresh herbs, you can pop a cube in your stew or soups.

Last, my favorite and the method I use most is layering. Lay herbs on paper towels in a thin layer and place more paper towels on top. Depending on the particular herb this method may take a couple of weeks. I like this method because the herbs retain not only most of the oils, but their color.

Miss Gina, hope this helps and one thing to remember is dried herbs are three to four times stronger than fresh herbs so if a recipe calls for fresh, use one-quarter to one-third less.

RANDY MOORE owns Avant Landscape Design in Courtland. He can be reached at AvantDesign11 @yahoo.com.