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What to do with all those herbs

October 29, 2012

by Jessica Drollette

Have you ever wondered what to do with the lavender growing in bushels in your garden?  Maybe you want to make air fresheners for Christmas presents. Or do you have some kitchen herbs you grew in your garden during the summertime, but you don’t know how to harvest and store them for winter. There are several effective methods for storing herbs. Experiment until you find the one that suits your needs the best, and then go for it!

Herbs drying in my kitchen window.
The smell is amazing!

1)      Cut and crush the fresh herbs (to expel the oil), mix them with a carrier oil (like olive oil) and freeze them in ice cube trays. Pop the frozen nuggets of herbal goodness into a Ziploc back and throw one into your soup or stew recipe when needed. This is a quick way to prepare your herbs for future use, but you will lose a large percentage of your herb’s essential oil content from the crushing and freezing process.

2)      Strip the herbal leaves from their stems and dry in your dehydrator (or oven) at its lowest setting until crisp. Store in an airtight container. They will store for up to one year. This is a quick way to dry your herbs and use them the same day. I do not prefer this method only because it cooks the herbs, unless you are careful to keep your temperature below 100 degrees F, which releases a significant amount of their healthy essential oils and deactivates the herbs’ natural digestive enzymes.

3)      Strip the leaves from their stems. Wash, pat dry, and then freeze whole on a cookie sheet. (This will allow for more of the oils to be preserved because of their whole state, but they will not maintain their shape when thawed, so be prepared!)

4)      Make herbal infused oils. Wash herbs, crush to release flavor, place in carrier oil of choice (olive oil is the normal oil of choice) and let the marinating go to work!  The carrier oil will remain good as long as its normal expiration date states.

5)      Air dry your herbs (see steps below). Herbs will retain the most essential oils using this method, but you must take precautions to make sure your herbs are completely dry before storing to prevent mold.

Below I will outline how to air dry your bounty of herbal gold. Have fun!  Involve the family—especially kids. Enjoy the rich aromas that will permeate your home in the coming days and weeks, and find satisfaction knowing that you’re practicing a time-honored tradition that dates back thousands of years.

How to Harvest and Air Dry Herbs:

1)      In the morning, cut sprigs of herbs you want to dry. Shake off any dirt and pat off any morning dew. Remove any damaged or black leaves.

2)      Remove herb leaves on the bottom inch or so of each sprig. Rinse if there is significant dirt you are uncomfortable with remaining on your herbs. (If you used Miracle Grow or any other product that contains pesticides, herbicides, or insecticides in your garden, it is a good idea to wash of all dirt from your herbs). Pat all sprigs dry with a clean dish cloth.

3)      Tie 4-6 sprigs together at the bottom with either a rubber band or twine. If the herbs are very bushy, you can add another tie in the middle of the herbs after tying the ends together.

4)      Cut a piece of masking tape twice the length of your herb’s name. Write the name on half of the tape. Stick it, folded in half, over the twine.

5)      Take a brown paper sandwich bag and place it over the tied herbs, leaving the tied end out of the bag. Secure the bag around the same location as the herbs were tied with more twine or a rubber band.

6)      Hang the bags from the ceiling with push pins, hooks, or a tied piece of twine strung like a clothes line.

7)      Check your herbs in about 2 weeks. Remove any leaves that show the smallest sign of mold or strange coloring compared to the other leaves. You may leave them there for up to 6 weeks, depending on which herbs you are working with.

8)      When all leaves are crisp to the touch, they are ready to take down. Try to keep the leaves intact, but pull them gently from the stem. Or, if the stems are short enough, you can store them on the stems in large mason jars.

9)      Store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight. They will be good for about 1 year from their dried date.

10)   Use your herbs for cooking (1 tsp dried = 1 T fresh), or in recipes for healing salves, bath salts, lotions, soaps or other fun creations. The possibilities are endless!

Tip:  If you have a FoodSaver, you can make them last 10+ times longer in a glass mason jar with the accessories attachment and a regular or wide mouth attachment lid!

Now it’s your turn.   Comment below and let us know if you have any other methods for drying or using your favorite herbs.  We’d love to post some great recipes as well, so share your wealth of knowledge with us.  Thanks for visiting!

One Comment
  1. Wow, I wish I had some herbs to dry right now. I’ll put “Window Ledge Herb Starter Kit” on my list for Santa. Thanks, Jessica for the great ideas.

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