Dried herbs are a store cupboard-essential, making the world of difference to your dishes in the depths of winter. Drying your own herbs guarantees that they are fresh – store-bought ones may have been around a while before you add them to your shopping trolley! Forget the expensive dried herbs and teas that line the supermarket shelves – with an abundant supply of fresh herbs, it’s time to start your own savvy preservation strategy to ensure a continuous, year-round supply of your favourite herbs from your garden.
Drying herbs is arguably the easiest and least expensive method of preservation. The object of drying herbs is to quickly eliminate the water content of the plant while retaining the essential oils. To remove moisture, all you need is air circulation and some warmth. When herbs are properly dried, they are safe from bacteria and mould and will remain potent from six to 12 months. Follow our tips to ensure that you continue to add a savoury taste to your cooking, long after your garden has been put to bed for the winter.
WHEN TO HARVEST
The key to drying success starts in the garden. Harvesting herbs on a sunny day in the morning after the dew has dried but before noon keeps the natural essential oils in the herb intact. The flavour of the herb is also more potent in the morning. The flavour and aroma of herbs comes from the essential oils contained in the leaves – this varies depending on the time of day and the stage of the plant’s lifecycle. Generally, the longer after their peak you wait to harvest, the less flavour they’ll have. The optimal time depends on the plant part to be harvested:
FOLIAGE: pick when the plant is beginning to form buds
FLOWERS: harvest when flowers are newly opened
SEED: collect when the seed heads are turning brown and hardening, but not brittle and ready to shatter.
As you’ll be cooking with your dried herbs, harvest herbs which are clean and free of pests and disease. To avoid any contamination of flavours, keep species separate from each other.
DRYING YOUR LEAVES
Herbs should be dried in a warm (between 21 and 33C), dark and dry place with good air circulation such as: an airing cupboard, the attic space (provided it doesn’t get too hot) or a spare room with closed curtains and the door ajar. This will quicken the drying process while discouraging mould. Darkness helps to prevent loss of colour and flavours.
The most popular way to preserve fresh herbs is to hang them in bundles to dry. This is a good way to dry herbs with less moisture content such as thyme, lavender, sage and rosemary.
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