Drying your own herbs is an economical, healthful, and flavorful way to preserve the herbal harvest, and it’s a very practical part of drying food. Here is how to dry herbs and spices at home.
What Herbs Work Best?
An herb, when used as food and/or medicine, consists of the leaves, flowers, and/or stems of a plant. Sometimes the root is considered an herb, too, as in the case of ginger and valerian.
Some herbs lend themselves to drying better than others. Chives, for example, tend to wither into brown threads when dried; other herbs retain their shape and color nicely. Here is a list of some of the herbs that do well with drying:
* Echinacea (flowers, stems, leaves, and roots)
* Lemon balm (stems and leaves)
* Catnip (stems and leaves – but watch out! Your cats will raid it while it’s drying if you don’t have it out of reach!)
* Mints (stems and leaves)
* Bee balm (stems and leaves)
* Dill (seeds and leaves)
* Stevia (leaves)
* Ginger (root)
* Sage (leaves)
* Basil (leaves)
When you go to harvest your herbs, the best time of day and method of harvest depends on several factors. For one thing, it depends on what part of the herb you’re harvesting; for another, it depends on the time of day and season. (If you’re purchasing herbs to dry, such as ginger at the grocery store, you can do that any time of day or year.)
When harvesting roots, it’s best to do so on the fall, sources say. If you are cutting the aerial parts (stems, flowers, and leaves), then it’s considered best to do that in the morning. Most herbs reach their peak somewhere in late spring, depending on where you live – herbs are best harvested at this key point, when the blooms have just opened or the foliage is at its best. You can still harvest herbs after blooming, but they may not be as flavorful and the stems might become woody (as in the case of stevia).
To dry the aerial parts of herbs, the best method is to hang them upside down. Cut the stems close to the ground with sharp clippers, then tie the bundle at the base of the stems with twine. Leave a loop when you tie, and hang this on an S-hook or other convenient area. Herbs dry best in shady, dry environments like open sheds, attics, or under house eaves. You can also dry them indoors.
For roots, slice them very thinly and place them in a dehydrator or on a drying rack/screen covered with cotton cloth or paper towels. Cover with another cloth or another layer of paper towels, and leave in the open air to dry. It should take a few days.
Dried roots and aerial parts should be stored in airtight containers.
Okay, so that’s herbs. What about spices, though? Can you and your amazing dehydrator do anything with those?
Make Your Own Dried Spices
Have you ever gone to the store to buy a particular spice and were shocked at the price? Spices can get expensive – especially if they are organic – and making your own is more economical. It also makes your house smell really good! So that you have mastered the art of drying food, you can start drying spices!
First, it’s a good idea to reiterate that spices are not necessarily the same as herbs.
Spices are usually made from seeds or fruits of plants, while generally speaking herbs are leaves, stems, or blooms. Roots cross over into both categories sometimes, as with ginger.
What Do You Need to Make Your Own Dried Spices?
There are some basic things you’ll need to be successful at making your own dried spices. You’ll need:
* Glass containers, such as used spice containers or vitamin bottles (washed of course)
* Grinder, such as a coffee grinder
* Rice – you’ll need to grind plain uncooked rice in the grinder periodically to clean it between spices (and if you want to use it for coffee again!).
* Ascorbic acid – you can find this at most health food stores in powder form. You might find it near the sprouting supplies; it’s usually not very expensive.
* Fresh spices for drying
What Kind of Seeds/Fruits/Roots Can I Use?
If you have access to them, there are all kinds of plant spices you can use. A popular first one to start with is ginger root. Here are some other suggestions:
* Citrus peel
* Hot peppers such as cayenne, seeds removed (you can save and dry the seeds for topping pizza and other foods)
* Celery seeds (celery can be grown in your garden)
* Mustard seeds (mustard is also easy to grow)
* Dill seeds (another garden favorite)
To dry these plant parts for grinding, slice onions, garlic and ginger very thinly and dry in a low oven or on a drying rack/screen. You can also use an electric dehydrator, of course. The seeds should also be dried in the air for a few days before grinding. For hot peppers, you’ll need to remove the seeds first (wear gloves!) and dry your peppers in low oven. You can also string peppers on thread to dry them before grinding.
Use your airtight containers and jars to store your spices, either whole or pre-ground. Some people prefer to keep spices whole until used to retain optimal flavor. You can also give these as gifts – people appreciate them, and they are affordable to give!
So now that you’ve dried a whole bunch of foods, what are you going to DO with those jars of dried food?