Drying Herbs for the Winter
After slacking off from gardening and garden postings for most of the summer, working on a big project, I'm back for Weekend Herb Blogging this week (and, I hope, on a regular basis). I've been snipping various herby bits out of my garden now and then for the past month, and realize there might be some interest. I put up a big bunch of dill, partially filled my marjoram bottle (yay), and am working on more. Here it is!
It's that time of year to trim one's herb gardens. Firstly, it's a chance to put by some of that herbal goodness for the winter. In many climates, a second set of clippings is able to be harvested, especially if one covers the herb bed at night with floating row cover or light muslin. Secondly, it's a good time to shape and prune perennial herbs for beauty and future productivity. One can also prune back herbs which are taking over the spots reserved for other herbs. In the small bed in this photo, after pruning, one can now see the wooly 'spicy oregano', a small moss-green spot, next to the now-revealed soaker hose. Previously, the summer savory was crowding it out, as well as sending up a thicket of tall woody stems. Most of those I've pruned off-- the stems can be dried and burned in the fireplace for a nice smell, or used as small skewers to flavor things.
The silvery 'curry plant', which does smell like curry, is mostly for appearance and novelty. I harvested some, but mostly trimmed it back so as not to shade my favored culinary herbs. It's visible beneath the rosemary here. Snip your herbs on a cloudy morning, after the dew has dried off but before the day warms up and the sun comes out. You'll get more essential oils in the herbs that way. Handle them as little as possible, putting them directly on a tray where you can dry them. Some folks bag and hang them, I just set them on our bookshelf in the dining room, out of direct sun and kittycat interference. From left to right: summer savory, curry plant w/rosemary on top, greek oregano, variegated oregano, wooly 'spicy' oregano. I like to mix the multiple oreganos in a crumble, though I will often reserve a stem or two of the whole plant aside for garnish or to use alone.
In this photo, we see purple sage and variegated golden sage, with a big bunch of lime thyme. I've since hung the sages on a little plastic dowel suspended between two bits of suitable clutter, and have spread the thyme out and turned it. The sage takes a long time to dry out. I'll keep it as whole leaf-- not sure how to make rubbed sage, and I still have some that I bought. I like to use the whole leaf in bean soups and various stir-fry preparations. The thyme I will strip from the stems and put in the jar. I use cleaned plastic prescription jars/bottles for my herbs. They're amber-walled, which protects the herbs from breaking down in the light, it's recycling, and I can write on the side with a sharpie. I can also toss them into a bag to go cook at a friend's place or go camping-- no glass to break. It's not elegant, but it works for me. :-)
Next week I'll show you how I harvest dill and freeze it so that it's fluffy and as good as fresh (almost). Check your dill for 'the grey plague', those awful aphids. I had to harvest ALL of two dill plants that were severely infested at the base of the stem. I lost a couple of small fronds, but the bugs hadn't made it up the stem yet to the tall parts. It's too dreadful to try picking the things out of dill fronds, ugh.