Growing herbs can come with challenges such as insect or weather damage, but I think the payoff for cooking-enhancement and cost-saving is well worth the effort. Most of my cooking herbs are planted in my spiral herb garden though there are mints, basils, and garlic scattered throughout our entire garden area. My healing herbs are also scattered far and wide.
While I have been seen wandering out around dinnertime to collect something lovely and aromatic to add to our meal, I dehydrate most of my herbs for use throughout the year. I gather mine in the morning and am careful to avoid any damaged leaves and plants that have gone to flower. The photo above (lower left) shows last year’s sage growth in flower (it’s been keeping the bees happy for the past month) with this year’s fresh growth lush and ready to harvest (lower center).
Prepare Herbs for Dehydrating
After snipping your herbs for drying, bring them in for closer inspection, rinsing, and de-stemming. While you work, if it’s not too hot out and you so desire, you might brew yourself up a lovely cup of fresh tea with some of your clippings. Though I dry much of my mint for use through the winter, it’s always great to have a cup of fresh herbal tea.
Try to layer your leaves without too much overlapping so you won’t have to rearrange them during the process. If your leaves don’t thoroughly dry, there’s a risk of mold. It’s preferable to choose herbs with similar dehydration times unless you don’t mind removing trays with leaves that finish more quickly during the process. I usually check mine once during the drying time and often rearrange the trays for more even drying.
I also label the trays on the outside using scotch tape and a Sharpie, mostly because I’m getting old and I usually busy myself with a variety of things during the period my dehydrator is working its magic. I don’t want to forget what I’m drying. This is especially important when you have herbs that look more alike than the batches shown in this blog post—I often dry catnip, peppermint, and chocolate mint at the same time. Sometimes smell will help identify but it’s easier to label and not worry about it.
For sage, oregano, and mint (the herbs pictured here) I set my dehydrator at 115 and plugged it in for 5 hours. The time needed to run your dehydrator can vary due to the temperature chosen, the humidity of the air, and the goods being dehydrated. Simply check your recipe (if you’re following one), the manual, or keep an eye on your goodies while they dry. I often let my dehydrator run overnight when I’m processing tomatoes or fruit leathers—herbs dry much more quickly.
Storing Dehydrated Herbs
Once your herbs have fully dried, switch off your dehydrator and let it cool. If you put your herbs away warm, moisture can collect and create mold ruining your otherwise diligent work. I use a variety of containers for storage — some have special significance. My favorite is the glass flip-top jar that my brother sent me years ago filled with dried sage from his garden. I love refilling this jar every year with my own sage because it touches my heart to think of my brother every time I use it.
Another thing that tickles me when storing my herbs is reusing and repurposing old containers. My husband thinks I’m a bit of a packrat — well, okay it’s true — but I get so much joy storing mint in my old plastic protein powder containers and oregano in reused spice and jam jars. I store other herbs in similar containers that otherwise might find themselves in the dump — even though we take our things for recycling containers, the trash companies only recycle it when it’s cost effective for them. A quick labeling with painter’s tape reminds me of what’s inside and my goods are ready for the shelf.
I highly recommend considering growing and drying your own herbs. If you haven’t done so before, you could start by planting a pot or two on your window, balcony, or porch. I prefer in the ground only because I forget to water pots as often as I should. If you have room in your garden, try a variety to see what you prefer (and what thrives in your growing zone). Store some treasures for your own use and share with others like my brother did. You never know the smiles you might bring to others’ faces for years to come.
Blythe Pelham is an artist that aims to enable others to find their grounding through energy work. She is in the midst of writing a cookbook and will occasionally share bits in her blogging here. She writes, gardens and cooks in Ohio. Find her online at Humings and Being Blythe, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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