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Harvesting, Drying and Using Garden Herbs

Cecilia Nasti shares her best tips on drying and using the herbs from your garden.

Cecilia Nasti is an organic food gardener and enthusiastic home cook. She produces and hosts the weekly radio feature Field & Feast broadcast on public radio in Austin, Texas. A nature lover, she also produces and hosts Passport to Texas, a daily statewide radio series about the outdoors for Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Basil; Photo by Cecilia Nasti
Thyme; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

The beauty of growing herbs is the convenience of walking into your yard, patio or onto your balcony to harvest what you need when you need it. If you have more herbs than you can use fresh, dry some and create savory herbal blends for your cooking.

Harvesting and Preparing Herbs for Drying

Basil in Water; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Harvest the herbs in the morning as they — like us — are rested, revved and ready to rock. Another way to put that is their flavor is more intense at that time. Use a pair of kitchen shears or a sharp knife to harvest what you want, as not to damage the plant.

I usually fill a big bowl with cold water and place everything I harvested into it, giving them a little jostle to dislodge any dust or dirt. Then I drain and separate the herbs and spread them out on a cotton tea towel or a couple of layers of absorbent paper towel to remove the majority of the water.

Drying herbs

Thin-leafed herbs like basil, oregano, and cilantro (among others) dry fairly quickly. Thick-leafed herbs like rosemary and sage will take longer to dry. So you may decide you want to dry herbs of like thicknesses together.

Have a car? A sunny driveway? You can dry herbs. Take cleaned herbs, still on their stems, place them on a parchment covered baking sheet, and place that inside your vehicle in a sunny driveway. Crack a couple of windows for air circulation, and let them sit in the car for several hours during the afternoon until they're dry. You can even do errands if you need to, just be careful about how you take those turns. Your car will smell delicious.

Use a low oven to dry herbs. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread cleaned herbs on a parchment lined baking sheet and place in your pre-heated oven. Use a wooden spoon to hold the oven door ajar slightly for air circulation, and then check on your herbs periodically until they have reached the level of dryness you desire.

Storing and Using Dried Herbs

Drying Herbs; Photo by Cecilia Nasti

Once the herbs are completely dry, store them in clean, airtight containers away from heat and moisture. For herbs with herbaceous stems like basil and cilantro, crumble leaves and stems together before storing. For woody stemmed herbs like oregano and rosemary, separate the leaves from the stems and store the leaves only. You can store each dried herb individually, or in blends. The following blends will get you started. Amounts are just suggestions; use measurements that please your palate.Italian Blend: Equal parts dried basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes (the flakes can be store bought, or if you have hot peppers in the garden, dry, grind, and use them).

Herbes de Provence: Equal parts dried savory, rosemary, thyme, oregano basil, marjoram and crushed lavender (optional).

Salt Blends: One-half cup kosher salt, 1 tablespoon dried garlic, 2 teaspoons each sage and oregano and 1 1/2 teaspoons rosemary. In a food processor whiz together and store in an airtight container.

Herbs add flavor to your recipes, and dried herb are especially versatile. So if you have more aromatics than you can use fresh —consider preserving the harvest by drying.

What flavor combinations are you excited to put together using dried (or even fresh) herbs?

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