What to do when your garden is overflowing with fresh herbs? Dry some.
Then dry some more! Start your personal "stash" of homegrown herbal tea!!
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My first foray into the wonderful world of at-home herb drying was a real eye-opener!
After much trial and error (more error than I care to admit!), I've learned that some drying methods preserve each herb's true flavor better than others.
There's no such thing as "one size fits all" when you're preserving fresh herbs.
Best Drying Methods for Each Herb
|Chamomile||Fair||Good||Good (very carefully!)||Good|
|Anise Hyssop - flowers||Good||Good||Poor||Good|
|Anise Hyssop - leaves||Good||Good||Good||Good|
|Rose Hips||Good (small hips only!)||Good||Good||Good|
|Bee Balm - flowers||Good||Fair||Poor||Good|
|Bee Balm - leaves||Good||Good||Good||Good|
Here are a few things to keep in mind - no matter which preserving method you're using:
Are you a patient soul? This is an easy way to dry lots of herbs at one time. But it's definitely not the quickest:
Hint: I slip a sprung-open paper clip into the bundle to use as a hanging device ...
Yep, my herbs are hanging from an over-the-door clothes hook. I was running out of space on the drying lines I had strung across the room. So I was forced to get creative with places to hang more bunches.
If you're thinking of hanging your herbs in your garage or basement to dry, think twice about that.
Your basement might be more humid than you realize, leading to moldy herbs. And garages collect some really nasty fumes. You don't want those fumes seeping into your tea herbs. Ick!
Are you short on hanging space? Lay your herbs on a flat surface to dry.
If your leaves or flowers are small and fall through the holes on a baking rack, spread them out on a clean cloth or paper. They'll dry just fine.
Important: Check your herbs every day. If you notice any moldiness, or even the barest hint of a musty odor, throw those herbs away and start over with a fresh harvest and less-humid drying conditions!
The secret to success with this method is having an oven that consistently holds a super-low (90°F /32°C or lower) temperature setting. If your oven temperature spikes and drops, you might want to try a different drying method.
Remember, our herbs are precious! We want to dry 'em - not fry 'em!!
* Helpful Hint: Check the temperature inside your oven before you turn it on.
You might be surprised to find that it's warm enough in there to dry your herbs without ever cranking up the heat!
Frankly, I was pretty skeptical about microwave drying herbs. Then I tried it and discovered that many tea herbs hold their true color and flavor surprisingly well when they're dried in the microwave.
The scientific explanation involves the difference in evaporation rates of a plant's water content and its volatile oils (the good stuff!). Borrrrrrrring, I know. So I'll spare you the science mumbo jumbo. ;-)
Moving right along to the "how to" ...
* IMPORTANT *
Be extra-careful when microwaving herbs.
In a matter of a few seconds, a delicate flower or leaf can go from perfectly dried, to destroyed, to on fire!
During the growing season, my food dehydrator gets more use than any other appliance in my kitchen. Yes, it's true, I'm not big on cooking. ;-) But I can't live without my dehydrator for drying fresh herbs!
I load 4 or 5 trays with freshly harvested herbs, turn the trusty machine on to the lowest temperature setting, and walk away.
The drying temperature stays perfectly steady. No heat fluctuations to screw up the process ... and in a matter of hours my herbs are nice and crispy dry.
Note: Each brand of dehydrator operates a little differently. So be sure to follow your manufacturer's instructions for best results!
Will your homegrown herbal tea taste as fresh in February as it did the day you harvested it? Yes ... if you store your dried herbs properly!
I know how tempting it can be to crush your mint, lemon verbena and other leaves up before you put them into their storage containers. They smell sooooo good when you rub them between your fingers!
And when you buy those expensive herbal teas from a fancy-schmancy tea shoppe, the leaves are already crushed. So that must be the proper way to store them. Right?
Nope! Ask any chef. He or she will tell you that it's best to store your herbs whole. As soon as you crumble them, they begin to lose their potency.
So, do as top chefs do. Keep your herbs whole until you're ready to use them. And store them in a squeaky-clean, completely dry, airtight container.
What's the best material for your storage containers? Glass!
I'm a huge fan of glass Mason jars. They're airtight. They're easy to clean. And they don't "hold odors" from whatever was in them before.
Plus, they're inexpensive. Properly cared for, they'll last forever.
I'm also a huge fan of the cute little "dissolvable" labels I use on my jars!
When it's time to wash and re-use a jar, just run it under water and the label slips right off. No more frustration (or manicure damage!) trying to remove gunky glue residue. :-)
Store your herbs is anywhere in your home that's cool, dry and away from direct sunlight.
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