The low­down on DRY­ING HERBS

Dry­ing home­grown herbs ex­tends their shelf-life and gets you through the win­ter months. Here's how to keep their flavour, aroma and colour.

Herbs & Superfoods - - Culinary Herbs In The Kitchen -

Fresh is best when it comes to herbs, but it’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to have fresh herbs over the cooler months. To guar­an­tee a year-round sup­ply, pre­serve your herbs by dry­ing them.

The aim of dry­ing herbs is to re­move the water con­tent while re­tain­ing the oil. You want your herbs to keep most of their flavour and fra­grance. To do that, you need to har­vest when the oil con­tent is at its high­est, which is typ­i­cally just be­fore your plants flower, for leaves, or just be­fore flow­ers open, if har­vest­ing the flow­ers.

Har­vest herbs on a dry, sunny morn­ing af­ter the dew has evap­o­rated. This is im­por­tant as mois­ture on plants can en­cour­age mould to de­velop. Pick early in the morn­ing too, be­fore the sun gets too hot, oth­er­wise the oils will evap­o­rate.

Cut healthy-look­ing stems, strip the lower leaves from each stem and tie in small bunches to al­low the leaves to dry quickly. Hang in a room that has good air cir­cu­la­tion and warmth but not heat, as heat de­stroys the oils. Also make sure they’re out of di­rect sun­light – a dark­ened room is ideal.

You can dry in­di­vid­ual leaves and flower heads on a cake rack, slat­ted tray or paper. If dry­ing on paper, turn the leaves sev­eral times a day to en­sure the air cir­cu­lates around the leaves. On a dry­ing rack, you can place a piece of muslin down first if you wish, but turn the leaves oc­ca­sion­ally.

Tem­per­a­ture, hu­mid­ity, mois­ture con­tent and size of leaf will de­ter­mine the dry­ing time, but it usu­ally takes a week or two. The leaves will be crisp when dry.

Once dry, re­move the leaves from the stems and store, whole, in air­tight con­tain­ers in the dark (such as a cup­board).

Some herbs do not re­tain their flavour very well af­ter dry­ing. These in­clude basil, chervil, chives, dill leaves, pars­ley and tar­ragon. These can be frozen in­stead (see in­struc­tions on the right).

You can use the oven to dry your herbs. Ar­range herbs on an oven tray and place in the oven on the very low­est tem­per­a­ture pos­si­ble. This will take sev­eral hours. They are ready when the leaves are brit­tle.

You can also use a food de­hy­dra­tor, or even a mi­crowave for quick re­sults. Place a sin­gle layer of herbs in be­tween two paper tow­els and zap in the mi­crowave on high for 1-2 min­utes. Al­low the leaves to cool. If they are brit­tle they are ready. If not, put them in the mi­crowave again for 20-30 sec­onds at a time.

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