Drying herbs for practical food preservation

By Odessa Appel | Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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Looking for a way to live a more natural lifestyle through foods? Want to save money or have a fun project to work on?

Food preservation is a fantastic way to do all of those things.

Everyone immediately thinks of canning when food preservation is mentioned, while drying falls to the wayside. Drying your homegrown herbs is a great way to ensure you know exactly what is going into your food, and by not having to purchase herbs at the grocery store, money stays in your pocket. It’s also an easy project to share with your spouse, children, grandchildren or friends.

So how does one safely dry herbs at home?

Start by harvesting herbs early in the morning the day they will be dried. Herbs are ready to be picked right before the buds begin to open. This ensures the maximum amount of oils that provide flavor and aroma. Rinse the herbs under cool, running water, and then gently pat them dry. Remove damaged, extremely dirty and imperfect stems or leaves.

The first method for drying is the classic air drying.

After herbs have been properly harvested, tie sturdy herbs such as rosemary, sage, or thyme in small bundles and hang to dry. For more tender herbs such as basil, mint or lemon balm that have a higher water content, the drying process may take too long, and they can begin to mold. For these herbs, gather them into bundles, and place them in a paper bag with holes. The holes allow for proper ventilation. Close the bag with string or a rubber band and then hang to dry.

The best place for herbs to hang-dry is in a well-ventilated room. They can be dried outside, but the color and flavor will be better if dried indoors.

The oven drying method may be more practical for places of higher humidity or for herbs with high water content or those that are easily removed from the stem. After herbs have been properly harvested, place herbs or herb leaves in a single layer on a paper towel, making sure the leaves don’t touch. Cover them with another paper towel, and place the herbs in the oven overnight to dry with the oven light or pilot light on. Do not turn the oven on.

Up to five layers can be dried at one time, depending on the humidity of the kitchen. Herbs are sufficiently dried when the leaves are crispy and crumble, and stems break when bent.

Once herbs are dried, they can be stored in an airtight container placed in a cool, dry, dark place. Recommended containers are glass canning jars, freezer bags and airtight plastic containers. Dried herbs will keep up to a year when stored properly.

For information on preserving foods safely, call the county Extension office at 940-627-3341.

Odessa Appel is a summer intern at the Wise County Extension office.

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