Want to concentrate herbal flavor, dry it!

It may sound antithetical, but with a few exceptions, drying herbs enhances and concentrates flavor! Essential oils and aromatic chemicals in your herbs give them their flavor. Tiny cell pockets and sometimes capsules or nodules on the leaf, bloom or stem material hold these active chemical and flavor components. Think of the tiny teardrop dots on the undersides of the leaves of true St. John’s Wort that hold hypericum’s active ingredient!

Drying tightens these natural “pockets” and encapsulates the chemicals and oils. Drying may be accomplished with or without heat. Air drying on screens designated for that purpose is our preferred method. Heat causes plant material change that reduces color. Heat changes some properties of the plant chemicals and actually releases many aromatic oils right into the air! Dehydration at low temperatures is the next most favored method for us, though we seldom require it. Drying

How do you prep for drying? Gently and quickly wash herbal leafy matter, leaving a little stem when possible. Use a salad spinner and paper towels to reduce water and generally keep water exposures brief. Place on clean non-metal screening material in a clean room with air circulation above and below your plant material. Crowding causes Screaming!! For best air circulation, herb stems and pieces should not overlap one another on the rack. Give the babies a little space!

Oregano, mints and sorrel dry in just two to three days for us. Woodier herbs like thyme and rosemary, along with lavender, require more time as their cell structures and stem material are thicker. Leave these for a week or so until you can pluck a dry leaf piece without a lot of effort and the stem material has a dry outer “feel.”

Remember, many herbs are enhanced with drying, and fresh, air-dried herbs are super healthful! Why use the two-year-olds from the grocery store when you can dry your own?

Happy Spring! See ya soon.

UPCOMING 5 FARM TOUR __ SEE EVENTS! augustalocallygrown.org for information regarding tour on May 18th! White Hills Lavender and Herb Farm will be first stop on the TOUR!!

Lavendula Angustifolia, culinary, organically grown!
Lavendula Angustifolia, culinary, organically grown!

When do I pick herbs for best quality and aroma?

Field grown, fresh harvested
Field grown, fresh harvested

Herbs are best picked when nearly dry, after the morning sun has had time to mop up the dew! Nip soft herbs with clean fingers and use sharp shears or pruners to clean-cut woody herbs. For culinary herbs, a quick, clean water rinse and spin in the lettuce spinner will remove most outdoor contaminants. Many fresh cut herbs will keep for a day or two at room temperature in water, in a glass container on the counter. I often initially add an ice cube or two to the water container!

Generally, herbs “breath” better if not completely covered when they are refrigerated. Lightly wrap your herb bundle or herb pieces in a paper towel and place loosely in a bag without completely closing the herbs off from air circulation. Darkening and softening are signs of moisture and microbially-induced decay.

Remarkably, herbs have high antioxidant stability, particularly when used fresh. Adding herbs to cooking near the end of the process means you are adding valuable nutrients and phytochemicals that will retain chemical potency and activity!

Stayed tuned. Next week — some tips on specific herb drying!
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