Whether you have an abundance from your herb garden or you just bought too much at the farmer’s market, knowing how to preserve herbs properly means you’ll have flavorful herbs for cooking all year long.
Most herbs do not grow year round, so harvesting fresh herbs and drying them out for later use allows them to be used in various recipes year round. Drying herbs is a simple way to preserve them for future use. Not all herbs take well to the drying process and some are best used only when fresh. Some popular herbs that can be dried easily include rosemary, oregano basil sage, tarragon, thyme and mint. These also happen to be some of the most popular cooking herbs that work in a rage variety of recipes.
To start, select the herbs you want to use and cut out large, strong stems. Once cut, you can set them aside in a water jar until ready to use them. Herbs do best when they are cut first thing in the morning. You want to cut them after the dew has dried, but before the morning sun gets too hot. It is important to harvest your herbs during the appropriate time int he growing season, when they are strong and plentiful, not when they are wilting or dried out. Many herbs continue to grow through summer and well into the fall months. Those herbs can continue to be used fresh through the fall season, but they must be cut and preserved prior to the first frost.
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Fill a large bowl with cold water and the stems in the bowl. One at a time, take a stem and swirl it around in the bowl. Remove it and place it on a paper towel, then blot it dry before moving it to a cooling rack. When dried, use a piece of twine to tie the stems together, weaving the twin through the hardiest stems back and forth. Be sure to leave a long piece of twine at the end. Now hang all of the herbs upside down and tie them to a long rope. Be sure you store them in a cool, dry place where you will be able to check on them often.
Every 1-2 days, check on the herbs and inspect them to make sure there are no spiders or bigs growing on them. Make sure the herbs remain fee from mold. If the herbs are hanging with one side up against a wall or other surface, be sure to turn them as needed to ensure even drying. Remove any leaves that contain mold, as well as any leaves the were surrounding them. You can place a piece of cheese cloth around the herbs and tie with additional twine if they ar being stored in a basement or other area that may attract insects.
Continue to check the herbs. The amount of time needed for complete drying depends on many factors, including the area’s climate, the drying conditions and the type and amount of herbs. Drying time can take anywhere from a few days to up to 2 weeks. Once they are fully dried, pluck the dried leaves from the stems and secure them in an airtight glass jar or plastic bag. You can store the leaves whole, or gently crush them with your fingers first. The herbs will keep for several months this way.
An alternative drying method that does not involve having the herbs, is to remove the leaves from the stems while they are still fresh. cover a baking sheet with some paper towels and spread the fresh leaves out over the sheet. Place another layer of paper towels over the fresh leaves and set aside. Continue to check on them every 1-2 days until they are completely dried. To speed drying, the leaves can be spread on the baking sheet without any paper towels and placed into the oven on the lowest setting. The oven door must remain open a crack to prevent burning and over-drying. You will see that this method creates a darkening of the leaves, however, the flavor is not at all affected.
Remember that using dried herbs in recipes will require only half the amount of herbs that would be used if the herbs were fresh.
Storing Dried Herbs
- Store your dried herbs in air tight containers. Zip closing bags will do. I like to use small canning jars.
- Be sure to label and date your containers.
- Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
- Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold.
- Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
- Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.
- Use about 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh.
Don’t let anybody tell you how much food is enough for you. Take the time and figure it out for yourself. You will be much happier and satisfied when it comes time to rely on your food storage.
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