Drying herbs creates savory seasonings, teas, aromatic potpourri and delightful herbal wreaths. We’re entering the late-harvest season, when both the intense heat that September can bring and the acute crispness of the night air tell us that the first frost is not too far away.
Follow these basic guidelines to capture the most flavor and fragrance.
Try to choose a sunny day after a rain naturally washes the leaves. The best time to cut is after the dew has dried but before the heat of the noon sun evaporates the flavorful volatile oils. Never cut more than half of the plant, as the leaves help the plant produce more growth. Two or three successive harvests can be made during the season.
If your herbs aren’t rain-washed, a gentle rinsing in a colander with cold water will suffice. You can use a salad spinner to remove the water.
Air drying is the easiest and most popular method for preserving herbs. The best herbs to air dry have low moisture content. Think dill, marjoram, oregano and rosemary.
One method is to strip the leaves and dry them on screens. Another is to tie loose bunches tightly and hang them to dry on clothes drying racks or beams. A kitchen or airy cupboard is ideal as warm temperatures from cooking facilitate drying. Tie small bunches with string as rubber bands will disintegrate. After a week or two, leaves will be dry enough to be stripped and stored whole until needed. Store in an airtight jar in the dark and crush or powder only the amount you need, as the oils are best retained when the leaves are whole. Herbs such as chives, parsley, dill and fennel can also be chopped and spread on cookie sheets and placed in a 110-degree oven overnight.
Some herbs should not be air dried as their flavor diminishes rapidly. Freezing herbs is an alternative when drying produces unsatisfactory results. To freeze herbs, mince and store in labeled, plastic zipper bags. Herbs that are best used fresh or frozen include basil, borage chives, chervil, cilantro, dill, French tarragon, garlic chives, parsley, salad burnet and sorrel.
Dried Herb Recipe
Make poultry seasoning with 12 parts sage, eight parts sweet marjoram, four parts thyme, rosemary and parsley, two parts oregano and one part garlic powder.