If you think your garden is too small for herbs, think again. We live in a detached townhouse with a small backyard garden — but not too small for a wonderful harvest of herbs every year. In fact, I usually get more herbs than I know what to do with.
The exciting (or frustrating) part of growing herbs is that the success of growing any particular herb can vary from year to year. Sometimes I’ve had a profusion of thyme, but other years the thyme just refuses to grow. Instead I might get bushels of basil, mounds of mint, or more rosemary, chives, parsley, and sage than I could ever possibly use.
The one constant producer in my garden is oregano, but it likes to move around, so I never know where the biggest batch will end up.
Even if you only have room to place a few pots on a patio, you can grow enough herbs to use throughout the growing season and still have plenty to spare for drying.
Drying herbs is much easier than you may think, at least when you do it the lazy way like me. Although you can find more elaborate instructions, the following steps have worked for me. (If you’re in a super big rush, scroll down to my short version of steps.)
First, I cut a batch of herbs, preferably in the morning, and before they go to seed. If you can cut them before they flower, that’s even better, but I do like to leave some flowers for the bees and butterflies.
If you cut too much, you’ll be overwhelmed later on when it’s time to remove the leaves from the stems, so don’t overdo it. (You’ll be repeating the process throughout the growing season and into the fall, so you’ll eventually cut most if not all of the herbs.) I also recommend cutting and prepping only one herb at a time unless you want to devote a whole day to this chore.
Next, it’s time to rinse the herbs and lay them out on a dish towel to dry (another reason to avoid cutting too many).
Once the herbs have completely dried from the rinsing, I place them in a paper bag. Sometimes I bundle the ends and tie them to the top of the bag, but I have been known to toss them in a bag willy nilly and hope for the best (it seems to work out just fine).
I hang or place the bag in my pantry, although a closet or any dark, dry space will also work.
Keep the bag(s) in the pantry about one to two weeks, or until the leaves are completely dry and crumble when touched. Confession time: I’ve left them in the bag for months because I just didn’t get around to dealing with them (yet another reason to stagger your picking times), and they’ve been fine albeit a little less vibrant in color.
Here comes the part I’m never very excited about — removing the leaves from the stems. This takes patience and a good chunk of time, depending on the herb. Avoid crumbling the leaves any more than is required to separate them from the stem, since the flavor is better if they’re crushed when you’re ready to cook with them. I recommend turning on some music, the news, or a good Netflix show while you sit and do this task.
Finally, the fun part! Store them in a cute container that’s airtight and dark. Place in a cool location (not above your oven) and use liberally in your soups and sauces.
If you’ve been diligent, you’ll have enough herbs to last you through a long, cold winter as well as extra herbs for your family and friends.
One last thing. Not all herbs dry well. For herbs like chives, basil, parsley, and tarragon, preserve them by making pesto or by adding them to oils, butter, or water then freezing them. More on that process at a different time.
SHORT VERSION OF STEPS
- Cut herbs.
- Rinse and place on towel to dry off completely (can take a few hours or up to a full day).
- Place in a paper bag (never plastic).
- Bundle a small bunch at the stem-ends (or not) and place bag in a dark pantry or closet for one to two weeks (or longer).
- Remove leaves from stems and store in a dark container.
Copyright © by Bobbi Mullins, September 6, 2019