This year, we’ve decided to grow a bunch of herbs we enjoy on a regular basis because buying them in the store costs way too much and they lack the flavor of fresh herbs. Our basil, thyme, dill, mint and oregano are all growing like crazy in planters on our deck. If you’ve ever grown herbs, you know that you end up with far more than you could possibly use.
Herbs get their flavor from their oils. This is why you can get a good whiff of an herb’s flavor by rubbing your hands on the leaves and smelling them afterwards (much easier than trying to smell the leaves directly – that gem of a tip comes from my cousins Jonathan and Kate). This is why air drying herbs late in the summer is the best way to maintain flavor.
First, it’s best to only dry those spices that retain a lot of their flavor when dried. Not all herbs are created equal and it’s better to freeze herbs with a high moisture content.
- Air dry: Sage, mint, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, and dill all taste good when dried.
- Freeze: Basil, parsley, cilantro and chives lose a bunch of their flavor when dried, so consider freezing instead.
Next, cut the herbs at the stem near the middle of the day. You want the morning moisture to dry off but before the leaves wilt from the sun. Remove any dry or diseased leaves. Hang them upside down so the stems dry straight. Make the knot tight as the stem will shrink as it dries. Check in frequently and take down the herbs when they can crumble in your fingers (but don’t).
When you take them down, store them whole in a container (or plastic zip-lock bag), put in a cool dark place, and use them for up to a year (for max flavor). Avoid crumbling them as they retain more flavor whole. Date your container if necessary or just look at the color before you use them, if they lose their color, they’ve probably lost a bit of flavor.
This year, we’ll hopefully get a nice batch of dried herbs to use in the winter for soups and stews!
(Photo: fairfaxcounty )