by SCMG Stephanie Wrightson
Dry herbs just don’t compare to fresh herbs in cooking. But, while some flavor loss in all dried herbs occurs, your own dried herbs will be fresher and more pungent than any you can buy at the supermarket. Here are the basics:
Pick herbs for leaf harvest just before flowers open. This is when the leaves contain the highest concentration of oils. Leaves may be harvested until late summer. Seeds may be saved by allowing some or all plants to mature and flower, and harvesting when seeds change in color from green to brown or gray.
The day before harvesting leaves, spray herbs with water so that they will be clean and dry the day of harvest. The day of leaf harvest, pick herbs in the early morning or place stems in water for two hours after picking. Strip damaged lower leaves and remove any flowers (unless you are harvesting seeds from the flower heads as described below).
Use kitchen string or a rubber band to loosely combine the stems into small bundles. Do not bunch herbs tightly or it may encourage mold as they dry. Label them as many dried leaves look alike! Hang the bunches upside down in a dark warm dry place with good air circulation. This preserves the essential oils which, in turn, preserves the flavor. The herbs are ready when all of the moisture is gone and they are crisp enough to crumble (one to two weeks in most cases).
As an alternative to hanging the herbs, you can dry them in the oven. More succulent herbs, such as basil, may do best with this method. Set the oven at the lowest temperature possible (ideally 110ºF or less). Spread the herbs out on a baking sheet…don’t crowd them. With the oven door partly open, monitor the herbs closely. Herbs are ready when they are crisp enough to crumble. If you use a dehydrator or solar dryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
If you are gathering seeds from flower heads (e.g., coriander seeds from the flower head of Coriandrum sativum,), use the hanging method above and loosely secure a paper bag over the flower heads to collect the seed before hanging, or place a clean cloth under the drying herbs. Note: Some gardeners loosely cover all drying herbs with paper bags in order to catch any falling leaves and/or to protect the herbs if they are being dried in a dusty attic or garage.
If sturdy enough, the dried stems of woody herbs can be used as skewers.
Seeds, whole leaves removed from the stem or crushed leaves, should be stored in airtight glass jars (preferably tinted) and kept in a cool, dry cupboard out of the light. Inspect jarred herbs after the first week. If there is condensation in the jar, remove the leaves for further drying.
Under optimum conditions, shelf life is one year…just in time for next year’s harvest.