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21 November 2012

Drying herbs for storage

One of the difficult parts of gardening for those new to it is when to harvest. When Reuben and Katie were here last week, Reuben told me that the section in my book about harvesting was really helpful. But it's not only vegetables that need to be harvested, it's herbs too. You don't want to waste anything, so keep an eye on your herbs and when they're growing abundantly, clip them off and dry them for storage so you don't waste any.



Always try to cut your herbs just above the nodes because that is where the new growth will come from when the herb starts growing again. Everyone dries herbs their own way, this is what works for me. I always water my herbs the day before I cut them, then cut them first thing in the morning before the sun hits them. After cutting off what I want, I give the herbs in the pot or in the ground a drink of weak fertiliser tea - something like comfrey tea or manure tea.  Don't let it be too strong though, like most vegetables, most herbs should not grow too fast because they need time to develop flavour.


We can grow most herbs all year round here but there are times when, if I don't go into the garden for a couple of days, a sneaky grasshopper will have moved in and the mint disappears. We all know that mint is the easiest of herbs to grow, but when you're waiting for leaves for mint sauce or drinks, you need mint NOW.


You can dry many herbs by hanging them in a dry and airy place out of sunlight (below). Or you can do what I do and just place them on a piece of towelling and put them in a slow oven. If you only have a small amount, I lay them on towelling on a plate on the kitchen bench and let them dry there (above). I move them around a couple of times a day (with dry hands) and generally they will dry out well in a week using this method.


Use a slip knot to tie your herbs. It's the same one you use for knitting.


If you use the hang and dry method, make sure you strip off all the leaves near the point where you'll hang them. Having leaves there might cause the bunch to go moldy, and stripped stems will help prevent that.  Don't throw out the leaves you strip off. Make use of them. I made mint sauce with the stripped off mint leaves I had today.

MINT SAUCE
  1. Wash mint leaves and pat dry.
  2. Finely chop the leaves.
  3. Boil small amount of water.
  4. Add half cup of water to a jug.
  5. Add 2 tablespoons sugar.
  6. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
  7. Add two tablespoons good vinegar, I always use malt vinegar because that's what my mother used.
  8. Add mint leaves, and stir.

You can adjust all the ingredients to suit your own taste. I tend to add a little more vinegar because I like a tart taste.  It's delicious on lamb.

Wait until this cools and store it in the fridge. It will be fine for at least three months stored in the fridge. 


Or you can bottle it in a fancy bottle for a gift or store it in a jar for your own use during the next few months.


Yesterday I picked a couple of bunches of mint and oregano for storage. Mint always tastes like mint but oregano changes a little and gets stronger. I like to have some in the pantry cupboard for winter stews and soups and for that to happen, I have to dry it when it's growing well.  I don't like microwaving herbs, I prefer to let them air dry or to dry them in a low conventional oven. About 110C for an hour will usually dry most herbs out well. Then it's just a matter of checking they're completely dry, crushing them and putting them in a jar with a firm lid for storage.  The enemy of dried herbs is moisture so in the first week of storing your dried herbs, check the jars every day to make sure they're not going moldly. If you see any sign of it - like condensation in the jar, place them back in the convention oven on paper towelling and dry them out again.

Another good way to store herbs for later use is to freeze them. Wash them carefully without bruising them, cut the leaves if you need to, then place some in ice cube trays, Fill up with water and freeze them. When they tray is frozen, pop them out and store in a zip lock bag in the freezer until you need them.



I also have lemon myrtle leaves I'm going to use in my next soap. I dried them in the slow oven and they've been sitting in a jar for a couple of weeks. I'll pulverise them with the stick blender just before I use them. My next lot of drying will be the chillies. Chilli bushes grow all year here but they only produce chillies during the hotter months.  I'll take advantage of that and dry some every couple of weeks during the growing season. 

This is an easy task and it saves on paying for herbs and spices during the year, which tend to be quite costly. All it takes is a bit of time and effort and it's one less thing I have to buy at the shops.

Are you a leaf dryer too?

21 comments:

  1. Hi Rhonda, thanks for these great tips. I haven't tried growing my own herbs but am tempted to do so. In other wonderful news, I picked up your book the other day. Sadly it is a present for me from my daughter for Christmas and I'm not allowed to look at it till then. To avoid temptation I have given it to my husband to hide (daughter lives interstate). I am so looking forward to receiving that on the day! Cheers Judy

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  2. I've only recently started drying herbs and currently have a mass of bay leaves drying after visiting my parents and helping myself to their tree! My sister and her husband now pop over with their excess when they prune various bushy herbs so it's working out rather well for us! Saves so much money!

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  3. I'm definitely a leaf dryer and a petal puller too. If you keep picking your chamomile it will produce more flower heads. Great for teas, salves and sleep pillows. Calendula is another big harvest here. I use it in my soaps, salves and tub teas for the bath. Nettle is my next biggest leaf harvest for drying, followed by the usual herbs and comfrey. Lavender and wormwood are also dried for potpourri and wardrobe sachets. Gosh there is a lot of bounty for a whole year.

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  4. What a simple thing to do - Its funny though - it has never occurred to me to dry my own herbs but I will do it this year, a simple quick and easy way to increase my DIY homemaking skills! Might extend my herb range on the weekend, as I usually only have enough needed for using fresh, thanks for the great tip! :)
    - Emmy-Lou
    xx

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  5. Thank you for this post, very handy to have your own herbs all year, not just when they are doing well in the garden.
    I managed to find a Lemon Myrtle tree for sale ...the day AFTER I made a batch of soap, so it will have to go in the next batch, could you tell me how much fresh or dry weight of leaves I will need for a standard size batch of the 4 ingredient soap.
    So nice to see you have had lovely family time recently.

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    Replies
    1. Margaret, the lemon myrtle leaves you see in the post are what I will use in a batch of soap according to my four ingredients recipe. Put them in after trace right at the end.

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  6. Hi Rhonda

    This is the first year we have grown herbs , basil and parsley . I live in Melbourne it's cooler here can I dry them the same or will I have to dry them in the oven

    Linda

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    Replies
    1. Linda, basil and parsley are best done in the slow oven or frozen in cubes.

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  7. I grew up with mint sauce on roast lamb, not mint jelly that you buy now, mint sauce that was actually as you describe, not really 'sauce' but just sugar, mint chopped up and malt vinegar ( my mum always used white malt..)...it was always my job to go down the back and 'pick the mint for the mint sauce'....

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  8. Hi Rhonda... I love the recipe for mint sauce... I think I am going to have to try this! Thankyou! Still enjoying reading your blog daily!

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  9. When drying my rosella for tea a while back I found that spreading them out on the metallic sun visor in the back of the car worked a treat.

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  10. Oh, yes, indeed. I do cut and dry herbs. So far stevia, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, sage, lavender, thyme, patchouli, oregano, variegated marjoram, savory, and mexican tarragon. I haven't harvested tansy and pyrethrum so far because I have them to discourage unwanted insects. I use a small dehydrator. I might look at some new varieties next year.

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  11. This is my year for drying herbs. I dried parsley by laying it on racks on the plate warmer above my wood stove and it dried beautifully overnight. I still can't quite believe just how amazing it tastes compared the to the bought stuff. I also dried celery leaves the same way. Then I lashed out (after much careful consideration) and bought a dehydrator. Quite a bit of what I want to dry is at it's peak during the summer months and it's its far to hot to light the wood stove a dehydrator seemed the next best option. Now I'm experimenting....lol.

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  12. So easy to do!!!. I have a great producing lemon tree, so anyone know how to dry lemon slices for hot lemon drinks and to add to your tea which I love [ It keeps the colds away}
    thanks mary-anne

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  13. I had a deja vu moment reading this post: I went out this morning and cut a bunch of herbs for drying - mint, sage, basil, oregano and thyme. I've not attempted drying them myself before but this past winter I got quite annoyed with myself for not having thought of it because I had to purchase herbs from the supermarket once the fresh herbs had died off. Lesson learned!
    ~S.

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  14. Thank you for the helpful information about when and how to save herbs. I only have coriander, mint, and sweet basil at the moment, but a friend gave me some seeds so I will have more variety soon. I am loving tomatoes at the moment. A friend took me to lunch and the tomatoes served had no taste compared to mine. My favourite tip from you of all time is how to store celery. As a single girl, I struggled to use it up before it went soggy. Now, I have it on hand! I use it for soup, tuna salad, and with peanut butter or cream cheese. debbie ps I live about an hour from you.

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  15. Exactly what I've been doing too, but with a new, bare garden I had to buy mine in, but only for pennies, as it is fast approaching winter here. You can also open freeze herbs, which works really well with parsley/celery leaves; just chop up, open freeze on a baking tray (only takes about an hour) and then store in a plastic tub in the freezer and just sprinkle on to soups, scrambled eggs, etc. They keep their colour, aroma and texture, lovely!

    Jak x

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  16. I am a 'freezer' rather than a 'dryer'!!! Now that I know how long mint sauce will last in the fridge, I will make up a batch. We are quickly heading for winter here in the UK, but I have put all my herb pots in the greenhouse and may be able to gather enough mint to make the sauce this year! I would love a de-hydrator though to dry fruit and veg from my garden. I wonder if Father Christmas will bring me one?

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  17. I've been playing around with herb drying the last two years, but I always wait too long and harvest one huge batch at the end of the season. I bet I'd like the result better if I harvested a little at a time to dry when it was fresh and growing strong rather than waiting until the end of the season. Good idea for next year (as its getting on winter here).

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  18. so many wonderful tips! Even though we no longer live in a house (we live in a mouse hole) lol,I still dry herbs and you know what I found works, you will laugh but I layer them in paper towels and put them under my bed. I'm not sure why but it dries them beautifully, I had a great airing cupboard in the house I used and a drying rack Garry built but I must say the under the bed method works great! Must have something to do with the cement under the carpet in the condo we live in, of course sometimes you dream of pizza but alls good in th end! Thank you again for sharing!

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  19. I know I'm coming to the party a little late but I've just discovered your blog (love it by the way). Just wanted to pipe up and say that I use my dehydrator fairly regularly to dry herbs. Chilis I string up or spread on the windowsill. I find with basil that I prefer to make a basil paste in my mortar and pestle, and freeze in ice cube trays or flat in ziplock bags. I've also preserved a few jars of basil by layering leaves with salt.

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