Activity of the Day: Herb (and flower) drying
Updated: May 31, 2020
This is a simple and traditional way of storing herbs which has retained huge popularity through to today (just look at any supermarket herbs section) because it's so easy and effective. It has the added advantage that it looks really pretty while you're doing it and makes the place you're drying the herbs smell nice too!
There's loads of advice online about drying herbs in the very best possible way, but a lot of it can be ignored- it may be important if you're running a business selling dried herbs to always follow all the instructions, but if you're drying things at home because you just want a bit handy for cooking or to make herb bags then what you're using will be really fresh anyway- and if it's OK for you, then that's all that matters.
So- if it's a convenient time of day for you to pick herbs, go and pick them. If you can be bothered to pick them first thing in the morning it's possible they may be slightly better than if you pick them later on a hot day.
We ended up picking more herbs than we originally planned because the golden marjoram, green marjoram and sage have grown so much in the last week or so they were almost blocking the paths and the back door...
If it's a convenient time of year for you to pick herbs, that's fine too. But if you can avoid picking when they're flowering, you'll generally get more leaf and less bits you don't want (of course if you're picking lavender for the flowers, then picking flowers is a sensible thing to do...). Exceptions to this rule are herbs that die back in winter- you really do have to pick them when they're above ground.... And also bay, which just doesn't have any flavour when it's growing vigorously in summer. Bay seems to be better cut in autumn or winter, which is handy because if you have a big bay tree the year-old branches make fantastic wreaths- and if you hang the wreaths indoors, after Christmas you'll have dried bay for cooking!
Here are some herbs we've organised for drying today
Clockwise from the flowering lavender (the purple bit half way down on the left) you can see: Golden marjoram, lemon balm (also known as bee balm), green marjoram, one stem of mint put in the wrong pile by a helpful helper, thyme, sage (technically too near flowering to use- but hey, it will work!) and mint.
Most herbs dry most easily hung in bundles somewhere with good ventilation but that isn't in direct sunlight - they tend to bleach and lose flavour in the sun.
Herbs with strong stems can be dried in vases or jam jars as long as you don't pack them in tightly- again, so the stems are ventilated so they dry rather than rotting. I like doing this with lavender especially as then you get a two-for-one of a pretty jar of lavender followed by dried lavender for using!
Here's how we prepared our herbs- in order, tying in small bunches with twine (any cord will do- I've used cotton sewing thread in a pinch but that is really too snappy- others recommend elastic bands to remove any risk of stems falling out as they dry and shrink), hanging to dry - or alternatively, just putting into a jar!
And here's why we like having them growing, really- they make such lovely plants! They're even better when in flower as bees love pretty much all herb plants- they'll be covered in pollinating insects in a few weeks.