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.
- Wash mint leaves and pat dry.
- Finely chop the leaves.
- Boil small amount of water.
- Add half cup of water to a jug.
- Add 2 tablespoons sugar.
- Stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add two tablespoons good vinegar, I always use malt vinegar because that's what my mother used.
- 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?
Are you a leaf dryer too?