Herbal Gardening - Drying and Preserving Herbs
Whether they are going to be used in cooking, as medicines, or for their fragrances, herbs must usually be preserved, and drying is the most common method used.
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|While herbs are often
grown simply for their frangrance or beauty in the garden, many herbs
are harvested today for traditional reasons: as medicines, seasonings,
aromatics and so forth. Using herbs for these uses requires proper preservation techniques,
and the most common means of preserving herbs is by drying.
There are some different traditional methods - bag drying, tray drying,
air drying and even a few modern ones, such as microwave drying.
BAG DRYING HERBS
Many herbs have lovely, and often aromatic, flowers, some with seeds which are
harvested. For these types, one of the easiest ways to preserve them is
simply let the flower dry on a piece of paper, then curl the paper and
pour the seeds into a bag. For leaf preservation there are a few extra steps.
Preserving the Leaves
Remove the flowers and roots from the stalk and rinse the remainder,
leaving the stems in water to soak for a few hours. This will loosen
any soil that simple rinsing wasn't able to wash away. Then put them
onto a cotton or paper towel and let them air dry.
Put the plant into a small paper bag, with the (now gone) flower end
inside and the stalks protruding an inch or two out of the bag. Tie the
bag around the stalks and place upside down...from the plant's point of
view, of course. In other words, put the bag on its base, with the
stems up. Oil from the stems will move by capillary action into the
leaves, where they become saturated with flavor or aroma.
In about a week or two, if the air is moderately dry, the leaves will
become brittle and easy to crumble. Avoid breaking them at this stage,
just separate them and place them in an airtight jar. When you want to
use them, they can be put into potpourri or crumbled for seasoning.
TRAY DRYING HERBS
In tray drying, there's no need to keep the stalks, just the leaf stems
and leaves. Clean as above and lay them out without overlapping on a
tray (hence the name), then put the tray into a dark, well ventilated
area. Remove the tray once per day and flip the leaves over to ensure
even drying. In a few days, they'll be ready for use.
MICROWAVE DRYING HERBS
If you're pressed for time, or just don't want to use the older
techniques, you can easily dry herbs in your microwave.
Begin by putting the herbs onto a paper towel or a paper plate. This
helps absorption better than use of a microwave-safe plate. Set the
oven for medium power and microwave for a couple of minutes. The exact
time will vary depending on the type and amount of the herb you are
drying, but about 2-3 minutes will be right for most.
Check the degree of dryness by rubbing a test leaf between thumb and
forefinger. The leaf should be brittle, crumbling without much
pressure. If not, try again in 30 second intervals until you've reached
the right dryness for your purposes.
At a certain point, you're no longer simply drying the herb. Microwaves
operate by agitating water molecules in food, causing the water to heat
up and evaporate. Once the moisture is gone, you're no longer drying
the plant and may actually be harming your microwave oven. Another
point: If the power is too high or the timing too long, you can
inadvertently cook the herb. You will probably have to experiment a
little until you find the right adjustments for your circumstances.
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