Whether you use herbs fresh from the garden or line your pantry with cute jars filled with dried herbs, here’s the how-to on harvesting and drying.
Cut sprigs or branches in the morning after the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the day. The oils in herbs are what give aroma and flavor, and herb oils are at their highest concentration during the morning hours. Harvest herbs for drying just as the first flower buds begin to open. This is when the oils in the leaves are most concentrated, yielding a peak flavor that lasts once preserved. Using a sharp knife, pruning scissors, or clippers cut the branches for drying. Right after harvesting, wash gently in cool water and dry in the open air.
Herbs grown for the seeds should be harvested when seed heads turn brown. Put the seed heads in paper lunch-sized bags for drying. Add a few holes in the side of the bags for air circulation. The seeds are ready when you can shake the seeds loose. Store in airtight jars or mylar pouches.
Drying in Bundles – In small bundles, tie together at the ends and hand upside-down in a warm, dry, well-vented location, out of direct sunlight. Keep the bundles small and somewhat loose, so the air can circulate. The attic, shed, or garage are good locations for this. Once the leaves feel crisp, usually in a week or less, strip leaves from the stems and store them in airtight jars.
Drying on a Rack – Lay branches of herbs in a single layer on a drying rack. Before storing, make sure your herbs are completely dry. It will take a few days. When in doubt, leave it out to dry another day or two more.
Remember, crushing the leaves releases the flavors. So to preserve the full flavor of your herbs, avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them.
Helen Yoest, owner of Gardening With Confidence™, is a wildlife gardener, garden coach and garden writer in Raleigh. Catch up with Helen via her blogs at www.GardeningWithConfidence.com/blog, and www.TarHeelGardening.com/wordpress.