Growing herbs and having a herb garden is a joy in itself but wait, there’s more!
Basil, thyme, marjoram, summer savory, fennel, rosemary, sage, oregano, lemon verbena, dill and mint are all herbs that are easy to dry, you can enjoy these dried herbs when fresh are not available. It’s easy to dry herbs. Some herbs such as parsley, lemon balm, and chives retain their flavor better if frozen.
The first thing is to cut your herbs early in the season before they start to go to seed. Where I am (zone 5) this comes quickly, May, June and July are good for harvesting many of the perennial herbs, like chives, thyme, oregano, and sage.
You can harvest about one third of the plant at a time, before it flowers, more than that at one time may stunt it’s growth. Always harvest herbs after the dew has lifted from the plants but before the sun gets too hot. Mid morning is often a good time to harvest. Rain can wash away the aromatic oils from many herbs, so try not to pick them right after a rain. If they are wet, gently use a salad spinner or roll in a kitchen towel to help them dry before hanging.
While harvesting try to maintain a nice shape and let air into the plant. I try to always give thanks to the mother and the plant for growing to help provide my subsistence.Cut herbs frequently and the plant will reward you by bushing out and giving you even more to harvest.
Using dried herbs is extremely helpful in the winter when the memory of green fragrant herb gardens are all we have. Dried herbs are handy to have in the cabinet, all ready when you are. Drying allows you have a supply of your own fresh tasting organic herbs all through the year. You can customize blends to suit your tastes. It’s fun! I love to experiment with different herb blends, and as long as I don’t overdo, I’m always pleased. Some herbs do not dry well, but you can still enjoy them by freezing, they retain their flavor and color, just pull some out of the freezer, mince and add to the dish you want to use them in. I usually don’t process them until I use them to retain as much flavor as possible.
Drying:: Dry herbs out of direct sun light. Wash herbs only if they really need it under cold running water and allow them to dry well, perhaps gently using a salad spinner to remove any excess liquid or pat dry in a towel. Hang your herbs to dry in small bundles held in place with rubber bands, because the stems tend to shrink a bit as the moisture evaporates, and the rubber band keeps them together as they dry. Drying herbs leave the herb’s essential oils for your enjoyment. You can also place them on a drying rack, turning them frequently so they keep their nice color and dry evenly. If you have a lot of herbs to dry at once, I’ve even put them on a rack in the car, it gets hot in there on a summer day and that makes for quick drying. Dry until leaves retain no more moisture to ensure no mold developing in storage.
Storing Dried Herbs:
I use canning jars to store my herbs, but you can use any containers you choose. I have some blue ball mason jars and they help protect my herbs from the light, keeping them fresh longer. Then I store the jars in a cool dry place. I move the herbs into smaller usable containers such as empty glass herb bottles, and other decorative shakers. I try not to use plastic, but if that does not bother you, empty Parmesan cheese containers hold a lot of herbs for a combination herb shaker.
Remember to label and date your jars. You might think you will remember when you harvested them and what they are, I have not always been able to, so I’ve learned labeling is pretty important. Also store where you can find and use them easily. Depending on the herb, most dried herbs retain their flavor for a year or so.
Tinctures are a way to use herbs medicinally. They keep a long time. Much study should be done before using herbs for your health.Medicinal plants and herbs are the basis for all medicine, but again, medicine can have side effects so explore the world of medicinal plants safely with knowledge and common sense. It is possible you will find your garden can serve as your second medicine chest.*
There are many sources on the internet or in the libraries explaining more in detail about specific medicinal herbs and mushrooms. (Disclaimer) Basically you combine herbs with a high proof vodka or ever-clear in a large jar with a secure, airtight lid. Leaving the mixture for at least two weeks, shaking the jar once or twice a day to disperse the medical properties of the herb into the alcohol. When the two weeks are up, strain the mixture using some sort of press to release all the essential elements, then discard the used herbs and bottle the tincture, be sure to label and date them, it’s easy to forget. Tinctures are usually taken in drop doses. Please research to learn more about them.
Teas and infusions:
Herbal tea’s used medicinally are known as infusions or tisanes and are usually much stronger than regular herbal tea bags you can get at the store. To make a tea, put two tablespoons of fresh herbs (one of dried) to a cup of boiling water and let steep for five minutes or so, strain and drink. Refrigerate leftovers.
Mix crumbled 2oz dried herb (or 4oz fresh) with 1 pint olive oil or any other vegetable oil of your choice. Let the mixture stand in a warm place. Strain the mixture discarding the herb and label and bottle.
Gently heat 1 pint of olive oil and add 2 oz. dried (4 oz. fresh) herb. Strain the mixture and discard the herb. Add 1 to 1 1/2 oz. beeswax to the oil and stir as the mixture cools. Spoon into a wide mouth jar or container. Can be refrigerated to prolong life.
Herbal vinegars are very easy, just add dried herbs to a quart jar, and add vinegar. Let it set shaking occasionally for a few weeks and strain out the herbs, the delicious flavor will have transferred to the vinegar. You can use apple cider vinegar or white vinegar, depending on how you will use it. For example, if I am making a beautiful vinegar with opal basil or chive blossoms, I will use a white vinegar so the color makes the best impact. You can use white wine vinegar for this, it is wonderful. For tonic vinegar using organic apple cider vinegar (such as Bragg s) is how I make them. It tastes good and is good for you, in addition to the herbs you have added. I bottle these in recycled bottles. No need to put in the refrigerator, they maintain their herbal goodness on a shelf.
*The information in this web site is meant to be used in conjunction with the guidance and care of your physician. The remedies described here are neither advice nor prescriptions, but ideas. Any remedy – from any source – should be employed with caution, common sense, and the approval of your physician.