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Gardeners' Dirt: Drying herbs for home-grown goodness

By By Marcia Kauffman - Victoria County Master Gardener Intern
June 21, 2012 at 1:21 a.m.

Growing in this raised bed with direct sun and heat at the Master Gardener Victoria  Educational Gardens are various kinds of mint and germander, front; lavender and rosemary plant, center,  comfrey, far back left; and garlic plants, far back right.  Some of these are grown for cooking and human consumption, while others aid in medicinal uses.

Easy-to-Dry Herbs

•  Bay

•  Dill

•  Marjoram

•  Oregano

•  Rosemary

•  Summer savory

•  Thyme

•  Chives

• Parsley

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My interest in growing and cooking with herbs started while visiting my sister-in-law Joanne. She was able to step outside her kitchen, pluck those tasty leaves, and then use them right in the savory dish she was creating. I was hooked.

That following autumn, I decided to try my hand at growing herbs. My green thumb translated into a bounty of herbs. Now, I needed to understand how to dry the leftovers, so I could use them later. I found information pertinent to drying herbs to try to keep their essential oils flavorful, enabling me to enhance my cooking with their usage.



Methods of drying herbs

I'm thinking I have plenty of time to experiment with the different methods of drying herbs. These are air drying to using the traditional oven to the microwave oven method.

Air drying - Took six to eight weeks

I chose the air drying method that might take the longest. After the morning dew had dried, using my cooking shears, I cut a healthy section of my oregano, cilantro and Italian flat-leaf parsley.

I was liberal in the quantity I clipped because the amount of herb was greatly reduced through the drying process. I was careful to leave a long stem, which I would later need for banding into a clump. Then, I gently rinsed each herb, being careful to look for dead parts or any small insects.

Now, the herb was ready for the drying process. I took a clump of the herb that I wished to dry and banded the stems together with a rubber band. Next, I punched holes in a paper lunch bag to allow air to circulate during the drying process.

I suspended this clump of banded herb inside the paper bag. I also secured the top of the paper bag, banding it with a rubber band, making it easier to hang from a clothes hanger. I then hung a couple of these paper bags in my laundry room.

Before I placed the herb inside, I marked the name of herb and the exact date. In two week intervals, I would make an observation of each bagged herb and carefully mark my results on the bag. My comments include observations like partially dried or leaves fully dried and recorded the date. This process of air drying took any where from six weeks for oregano to two months for flat-leaf parsley, because of its denseness of leaf and stem.

Traditional oven - Took 20 to 30 minutes

My next method was using the (traditional) oven. I used the same method preparing the herb for a drying process. Then I was ready to proceed.

I laid the herbs on a cookie sheet, making certain I had only a single layer of material. I preheated the oven to 180 degrees and after the oven was at the precise temperature, I slipped my cookie sheet into the oven and set the timer on 20 minutes.

When I checked after 20 minutes, the oregano was ready, but the parsley needed an extra 10 minutes. I removed each herb from the oven and crumpled it, placing it in an air-tight bottle to be used in various recipes.

Microwave oven - Took about two minutes

The last method I tried was using the microwave oven. Picking the herbs from my garden as previously done in the other two methods, I then spread one layer of the rinsed herb on dry paper towels.

Using the high power of the microwave, I set it for one to two minutes. If at the end of this time, the herb is not brittle and ready to crumble, then another 30 seconds ought to do the trick.

Some herbs, such as flat leaf parsley, are thicker and it was recommended that it be air dried for several days, then microwaved. I found the parsley was just fine using only the microwave oven.

Results of my endeavors were about the same. I found if I used a microwavable container, the drying took longer, as opposed to placing the herb on a paper towel.



Preferred method, results

The impatient person that I am, I would probably stick to the oven-drying method. I like the oven-drying method as opposed to the even more rapid method of the microwave because I could dry more at the same time, giving me more bang for the buck.



Keep for only up to six months

I did not notice any decrease in the flavor from one method to another, but I did make note to only keep the herbs up to six months. After that, the herbs tend to lose their savory flavor.

While I am not endorsing one over another, I would recommend any of the following recipes from the noted sites for the use of dried herbs.

Chicken and herbed dumplings - by Emeril Lagasse foodnetwork.com

Chicken and sun dried tomato bruschetta - by SMPeter allrecipes.com

Herb butters - by Jill Jones herbalgardens.com

You can enhance home-cooked flavor from home-dried herbs. Give it a try for home-grown goodness.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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