Hi gang! Today I wanted to share some tips and tricks that I’ve learned through the years when it comes to drying herbs to stock your apothecary, or pantry. I’m going to name some specific herbs because I feel like they are some of the essential ones. If you do not have these growing in your yard, you should consider doing so. Not only are they beautiful, but they add nutriative value that will support and balance your whole body. I seem to crave these herbs during the winter time and they turn those winter meals from good to fantastic!
The first herb we will talk about is oregano. Oregano has chemical constituents that act as antiviral, antibacterial, and anti fungal. I’m sure you can see how these properties would be extremely helpful during the winter. If you do not have this herb growing in your yard you should consider planting several different varieties in the spring. Some of the oregano varieties are very mild, and are best suited for drying. Some are stronger, and are best suited for preserving in oil. To dry this herb you will clip the stem near the bottom, before it has flowered preferably. Once a plant goes to flower it is generally sending all of its energy into the flower, and not into the leaves that you will consume anymore. There are a few exceptions, but oregano is one you should try to pick before it flowers. Once you have the desired amount clipped, place it in your food dehydrator on the lowest setting-generally 95 degrees or so. Leave the leaves on the stem. Leave it in the food dehydrator for 3-4 days until the leaf crumbles off the stem when you touch it. Be sure it’s completely dry because you don’t want your herbs to mold while in storage. If you do not have a food dehydrator, you can still dry herbs! Just tie a bundle together with some string and hang upside down in a dry area, out of direct sunlight, until it has dried completely. The easiest way to prepare these for storage is to run your thumb and first finger along the stem to crumble off the dried leaves into a large container. I have a large mortar and pestle that I use, and then I just crush them up, and scoop them up into a canning/storage jar. Label and date the jar, and store it in a dark, dry cabinet or pantry.
If you wish to preserve stronger oregano varieties in oil, it’s very simple. Harvest the oregano using the same method as described above. Wash the oregano, and pat dry using a clean towel, or paper towels. Then strip all the leaves from the stems into a canning jar. Fill the jar with oil of your choice. If I’m going to be using this to cook with, I generally prefer an oil that will not oxidize at high temperatures. I will generally choose MCT, or Avocado Oil. If you plan to use this oil preserve to make salad dressings then olive oil may be used. If you are going to preserve oil, do so in smaller quantities. I sometimes put my oregano in ice-cube trays and fill each well with oil, freeze, then pop the oregano/oil cubes out and put them in a resealable freezer bag and place them into the freezer. Be sure to pack your ice-cube wells, and jars completely full of oregano, and add just enough oil to cover all the leaves to prevent mold. The more oregano you can pack in the better. If you are making a sauce, you want more oregano than oil generally to avoid a greasy, runny sauce.
The next herb we will talk about is mint. Mint is one of my favorite herbs to preserve for the winter. There is nothing like a cup of hot mint tea on a chilly evening-especially one that comes from the fruit of your own labor! As with oregano the goal is to harvest it before it flowers. If you don’t get to it on time however, no worries, the mint flavor and properties just won’t be as strong…but it still makes for a nice up of tea. For mint, it’s easiest to strip the leaves off BEFORE placing them in the food dehydrator. Not only can you fit more in the dehydrator, but you can also crumble it easier when it has finished drying. Mint should also be dried at a very low temperature (95 degrees F) for 2-3 days until it crumbles to the touch. This is my biggest secret to processing ALOT of mint during the summer time…my blender! I place all the dried leaves in my blender and pulse it a few times, and Viola! I have crushed mint that stores easily in a canning jar. Label and date this, and store in a dark dry pantry or cabinet.
The next herb we will talk about is sage. This one can be harvested even after it flowers. The taste is still just as strong. You can dry this or preserve in oil just like the oregano. It’s also easiest to pick this off the stem prior to drying it. Once dry place this in the blender with a few quick pulses and it’s ready to be stored in a jar in your pantry as well. My favorite way to use sage during the winter is to make a browned butter, and then add some crushed sage and drizzle it over butternut or acorn squash! Try it! You won’t be sorry!
The next herb is my darling calendula! I love this cheery little flower for so many reasons! I planted a bunch of it, and I’m so happy to see it poking through the ground in the spring time! It’s kind of sticky when you harvest it, but just place it in a food dehydrator or even lay it out on the counter. Use the lowest setting on the food dehydrator, and I find that this one takes a bit longer to dry. Normally somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 days. Then simply pluck all the dried petals from the flower and store in a jar. This makes such soothing warm compresses. I found some little rectangular shaped disposable bags that can be ironed shut. I fill them with soothing bath herbs, and iron them shut and they make the best little gifts or stocking stuffers! There are so many uses for calendula that it’s well worth the time to preserve this one in bulk during the summer months.
Comfrey is another herb that I dry in bulk during the summer time. This is one that needs to also be harvested before it flowers. It’s a pretty prickly plant, so harvest with some leather gardening gloves. I pick the leaves and place them also in the food dehydrator at the lowest temperature. Once they are dried, I process them in the blender and pack them into jars as well.
Red Raspberry leaves and Strawberry leaves also make wonderful vitamin rich teas during the winter. Red raspberry leaves are a great female tonic herb. The processing on these is the same as the comfrey.
For the patient person….lavender. You will harvest this after it has flowered, clipping the stem below the flowering part. Place in the food dehydrator on the lowest setting and allow this to dry for 2-3 days. Then the task is to pluck all the dried lavender buds from the stem and place them in a jar. This is actually wonderfully calming. Lavender is a calming herb, and you will inevitably be inhaling the fragrance as you work with it. Lavender sachets also make a great stocking stuffer!
Lemongrass is another of my favorite herbs. For this one you will just cut the stalks and either lay them out in a dry spot out of direct sunlight or place them in a food dehydrator at the lowest temperature for a few days. Then pack the stalks into a clean glass jar with a lid-again, labeled and dated.
Stevia, lemon verbena, and lemon balm, and basil-are also all best left on the stem, dried, then stripped from the stem before placing them in to a blender and processing them and then storing them all in separate jars that are labeled and dated. From the separate jars you can then play around with making many different teas, and herbal preparations.
Many of these herbs get planted in pots here so that I can bring them inside during the winter months. They would all do okay outside, especially if you mulch over the plant and lay down some fresh straw, but I enjoy having them inside to harvest from through the winter.
My rosemary lives in a pot in my kitchen all through the winter. We normally plant some basil and keep it in the kitchen through the winter as well.
Do you preserve herbs through the winter? If so which ones are your favorites? Do you have any I didn’t mention here? I’m always up for suggestions on indoor herb growing!