Drying Herbs, Perennials: Green Tips

If you’re looking for one green habit to incorporate into your lifestyle, we would encourage you to think about growing and harvesting your own herbs. Why?

1. It’s an easy process, and a fulfilling one at that;

2. Planting your own adds additional carbon fighting elements into the atmosphere;

3. Saves you money. People often buy fresh herbs for one recipe and then they go bad;

4. Saves unnecessary packaging from buying in-store;

5. Gives you a reason to re-use your leftover/empty spice jars;

6. Encourages you to use fresh herbs in your cooking which is tastier. Yum Yum;

7. Using fresh herbs means you’re probably cooking healthier meals. Added bonus!

8. You will easily be able to grow more than you can use, which fosters happy relationships since you’ll always have hostess gifts to share, and “something to bring to the cook” when invited over for dinner.

For our next two Green Tips posts on The Budget Ecoist, we’ll share with you an easy process on how to dry those lovely herbs you’ve grown. For the purposes of today’s post, we’ll be focusing on drying perennial herbs.

Perennials are herbs that live more than two years. Included in this group are: chives, lavender, mints, oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and French tarragon.

Harvest Time

According to the University of Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Harvest time is determined by the growing condition of the herb, rather than by a specific date or month. Most herbs are ready to be harvested just as the flower buds first appear but before they are fully open. The leaves contain the maximum amount of volatile oils at this stage of growth, giving the greatest flavor and fragrance to the finished product.

It is important to harvest herbs at the proper time of day. Gather them early in the morning, just after the dew has evaporated and before the sun is hot.

Cutting the Herbs

Leafy perennial herbs should not be cut back as heavily as annual herbs. Remove only about one-third of the top growth at a time and, in some cases, only the leafy tips. Use caution when harvesting to carefully prune the perennial herbs so that new growth will be produce. Most perennial herbs will be ready to harvest just prior to or during the early part of July.

Air Drying

In preparation for drying whole branches or stems, first wash and dry them. Gather a bunch (5 to 8) of stems together and tie them into a bundle (a great way to re-use twist-ties or rubber bands). Place them into a brown paper bag with the stems extending out of the open end. Hang the bag in a dark, warm place (70°F to 80°F). It will take from 2 to 4 weeks for your herbs to become completely dry, depending upon temperature and moisture.

Another option is the tray drying method, more popular for short stemmed herbs, such as oregano, or for individual herb leaves. An old window screen makes a great drying tray. If you don’t have one handy, you can make your own from 2×2 wood pieces made into a square and covered with screen material.

Keep the trays in a warm, dark place until the herbs are thoroughly dry.

After the herbs are completely dried, store them in airtight jars you have lying around (especially old spice jars) in a cool, dry place. It is important to have the herbs completely dry; otherwise, they may mold. Keep the jars away from light and heat, since both destroy the quality of the herbs.