Either I don’t plant them properly such as not having the proper soil pH level or I commit the mortal sin of forgetting (or am too tired) to water them. That was even one of the reasons we got an automated sprinkler system! So flowers at my house are pretty much regulated to the kind you buy at the florist and put into a pretty vase and our landscaping consists of grass, trees and hearty shrubs that I can’t kill!
However, when it comes to my herb garden, I’m a whiz!
Maybe it’s because I love to cook and love the way fresh herbs can change the flavor of a dish that I’m more diligent in tending to them. Or maybe it’s also I’m constantly pruning them to use in dishes I’m making that allow the herb plants to keep sprouting and grow even stronger.
Each year I try to change my herb garden up a bit — this year I added tarragon to the mix — but you can always find cilantro, curly parsley, oregano, rosemary, basil, sage, dill and thyme growing in a planter boxes on my deck. My herb plants grow pretty fast and much faster than I can use all of their delicious flavor and wonderful aromas – so to keep all their goodness I wind up drying them and make my own herb blend.
I dry my herbs in the oven, but lots of people do it naturally out in the sun and I’ve even read that some people do it in the microwave — but that way sounds a little dicey to me.
Drying herbs is pretty simple to do, with just a few steps. Here’s how you do it:
1) Cut healthy branches, leaves from your herb plants to keep. Try to harvest your herbs before they start flowering. Remove any dry or yellow/brown leaves – their flavor has already been diminished by the stress of the season and you won’t want to dry them and include them in your herb stash.
2) Gently shake of any soil, remove any insects (my dill always have caterpillars on it!) and gently rinse the cut herbs with cool water. Either pat the herbs dry with a paper towel or do what I do, use a salad spinner to remove all the excess water. You want your herbs to be clean and totally dry before the preserving process. Any moisture left on them during the drying out process will spoil their flavor, discolor their appearance and could either mold or rot – yuck!
3) Preheat your oven to the lowest temperature you can. Most ovens can go as low at 175 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s important to keep your oven temperature below 200 degrees or else your herbs will bake and not dry.
Looks can be deceiving. On the left one batch of herbs cut from the garden, and looks like it’s overflowing. On the right, after 45 minutes drying out in the oven, the volume is less than half!
4) Lay your herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet or large pizza pan. Now this is where it can vary –I like to pluck my leaves off the branches and stems before drying them. It’s a lengthier process, but I like to go thru all the leaves and remove any ones I don’t think are up to par. Other people prefer to keep them on the branches and stems until they are done drying, staying it’s easier for them to remove them once they’re dried. The choice is yours!
5) Once the oven is preheated, place your herb covered cookie sheets/pizza pans onto the shelves in the center of the oven. And remember, do not let the oven get to over 200 degrees, you want to dry out, not bake the herbs! Sometimes if I think the oven is getting to hot, I open the oven door just a bit – to keep the air circulating.
6) The time it takes for herbs to dry completely depends on the herb your drying and the essential oils they have in them (such as oregano). It also depends on how humid a day/place is when you’re drying your herbs. I usually set my timer for about 30 minutes and then check them every 10 minutes after that. When they look dry, take some out and test it. It’s dry when the herbs crumble easily in the palm of your hand. Generally I find that it takes about 40 -60 minutes to dry out herbs, again depending on the type.
Since I make a herb blend and don’t store my herbs individually, I put them all into a big bowl and mash them up together before putting them in an airtight container and keeping it in a cool dry place away from sunlight. I usually wind up drying enough herbs between June and September that will last me through most of the winter. I use about 1 teaspoon of my dried herb blend in place of recipes that call for a tablespoon of fresh ones. It’s a great way to get a little sunshine and taste of summer in the dark and cold months!
Now it’s your turn to share. What is your favorite herb – either to eat or grow?
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