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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Drying Herbs

My thyme and oregano grow like weeds, and it is great having fresh herbs for canning, but I also like dried herbs for the year, so I dry my own.  It is super easy, and the only things you need are fresh herbs, string, a nice corner with good air circulation, and a stick.
I loved working at Daggett Farm (1760's Historic Farm) because of the drying techniques, and we always used a good, sturdy stick from the yard.  You don't have to use one from the yard, but it is more fun!
I have a nice open area in my kitchen, and I have a ceiling fan to keep the air moving, but a fan is not necessary unless you have high humidity or a closed area.  I cut the herbs in the morning, before it is too hot, which helps keep the oils in the leaves, and then wash them in cool water to get any bugs or other stuff off the leaves.  I then let them dry for a few hours, so that when I tie them up, there is no moisture in the stems.  I then settle down in front of an awesome movie like the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" and start tying up loose bundles of two or three stems each with 100% cotton string.  I like to use hand quilting cotton thread, as it does not retain moisture, and it is very strong for its width.  I then just tie the bundles up to my stick, which is hung between a wall and a cupboard.  Just make sure the herbs have full air.  If you are worried about dust or bugs, drape cheesecloth over, but only one layer.  In my house, it only takes about 3-4 days to dry, and then I pull down the bundles, crush them, and fill up my spice jars.  I put any extra in little cotton cloth bags, and keep them in a paper bag in the pantry.  This amount in the window will fill a jar, so I will dry several batches throughout the summer.  Whatever is leftover when next year rolls around, I just compost.
This process works very well for small leaf herbs, and ( though I do use a dehydrator for other produce) the herbs fair better taste-wise than in a dehydrator.  
With larger leaf herbs like sage and basil, just make sure that the bundles are only 1-2 sprigs and a fan is recommended.  The best drying comes from cool, dry air, not necessarily hot, if it is humid.

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