I have been growing my own herbs for a number of years now and I absolutely love having fresh herbs to use all summer long. Having an herb garden also allows me to experiment and grow specialty herbs that I may not always be able to find at local stores and markets.
With cooler temperatures and fall fast approaching, it’s thyme to harvest what’s left of those fresh herbs. Here are few quick tips to help you savour your homegrown herbs (or maybe some you’ve picked up from your local farmer’s market) for the winter months.
Harvesting and Preparing Herbs for Storing
The best time to harvest your herbs is early in the day after the dew has dried but before the sun makes the leaves too dry. Herbs grown for their leaves should be harvested before they flower as they tend to lose flavour or become bitter after flowering.
After harvesting, gently wash the herbs and lay them out on cotton tea towels or paper towels to remove as much excess moisture as possible. Remove any dead or damaged leaves or flowers.
Other than when using the “hanging to dry” method, you can remove the leaves from the stems before drying or freezing. A tool such as an “herb zipper” can be very useful in removing the leaves from the stems. You can find one in most kitchen supply stores or online.
Hanging Herbs to Dry
This method works best for low moisture herbs like dill, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, sage and thyme.
- Remove the lower leaves and bundle 4-6 branches together, tying with string or a rubber band.
- Place upside down in a brown paper bag, with stems out and tied closed. The bags help protect the herbs from dust and other contamination while drying.
- Punch small holes along the top for air circulation.
- Hang the bag in a warm, dark, area for about 2 to 4 weeks, checking every so often until dry.
NOTE: Herbs with higher moisture content like basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mint will mold if not dried quickly. For the best outcome, gather the herbs in smaller bundles. and put in a well-ventilated area.
Drying Herbs With Heat
Oven drying works well if the temperatures can be closely monitored. Oftentimes, oven temperatures cannot be set low enough and the result is loss of flavor and color. Setting your oven at the lowest temperature and leaving the oven door slightly open often results in temperatures that can be maintained at a level that achieves good results.
- Place the prepared herbs on a cookie sheet.
- Check the progress of drying often and turn the herbs if necessary. It may take 3-4 hours to dry herbs using this method.
Drying herbs using an electric dehydrator is a very effective way to dry herbs as temperature and air circulation can be controlled more easily.
- Refer to the owner’s manual for specifics and settings.
- Herbs are dry when they crumble, and stems break when bent.
Although microwave ovens can be used to dry herbs, I personally don’t use this method or recommend it. Although this method can be faster, there is a high risk of scorching the herbs or not getting the optimum flavour from your herbs. If you want to try this method, please check the manufacturer’s recommendations for using their product when drying herbs.
Storing Dried Herbs
After herbs are dry, remove the leaves from the stems (if you didn’t remove before drying) and store in sealed containers in a location out of sunlight. To preserve the full flavour of the herbs, try to avoid crushing the leaves when packaging. Ideally herbs should be crushed just prior to adding them to recipes.
Drying concentrates the flavour of herbs so you only need to use about 1 teaspoon of crumbled dried herbs to 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs in recipes.
Freezing herbs is perhaps the easiest method. Although freezing may alter the appearance of the herb, it will not affect the flavor. This works well for higher moisture herbs like basil, cilantro, oregano, and tarragon.
- Chop up the herbs and put into an ice cube tray.
- Fill the cubes with either water or olive oil. Neither will diminish the flavor when used later.
- Once frozen, pop out and store the cubes in a bag or container to use later to season soups, casseroles, and other comforting winter dishes.
Take a little time and try one of these ways to help you keep a little bit of summertime flavour in your kitchen all year long!