Dried herbs are one very essential ingredient in most kitchens around the world. They not only enhance the taste of a dish but most herbs are also beneficial for the body. Storing herbs, especially knowing how to dry herbs at home would often be very handy – easy growing herbs like basil, mint, rosemary, thyme etc are found in nearly all kitchen gardens and add excellent taste to even the most ordinary cooking. Fresh garden herbs like sage, parsley, mint, oregano, rosemary, marjoram, bay etc taste best when dried and used. Also dry herbs can be used all round the year.
Early afternoon is the ideal time to harvest fresh herbs for drying. That time the leaves are in the apt condition for drying unlike early in the morning when it is covered with mist or late afternoon, when the leaves are too parched due to strong sun. It is interesting to note that herbs with soft stems are most excellent when consumed fresh. It is wise to dry only herbs with woody stem for an enhanced aroma and prolonged shelf life.
Once the desired amount of herbs is collected, clean it thoroughly to remove all dust particles, twigs or dry leaves. There are many methods for drying herbs. Air drying is one of the oldest and easiest processes. Here, the herbs are tied in little bouquets and blanched in hot water for few minutes. The excess water is dried off using a tissue paper or dry cloth. The bunch is then wrapped in clean cotton cloth and hanged in a warm arid place.
Another process of air drying includes hanging the bunched herbs inside a paper bag to dry. The paper bag prevents dust or insects to infect the herbs while it is being dried. Few holes need to be punched on the bag for proper circulation of air and to keep the inside moisture-free. But direct sunlight is not advised as it robs the herbs of its aroma, especially fresh herbs with high moisture content. The complete process may take about few hours to a few days. When the stems and leaves become brittle, it means the drying is done.
Leaves with small plants may be dried by spreading on a sheet of paper and kept in an arid and well-ventilated place. After few days, the leaves if the leaves crumble when touched, it means they are ready to use. But if one wants to dry herbs very fast, the microwave may be a good option. It takes only a minute or two to effectively dry herbs in a microwave. The cleaned herbs are kept in a microwave-safe plate and placed inside the oven and it comes out dry in no time.
Like drying it is also essential to store the dried products in the right way for prolonged use. The herbs must be stored in a properly sterilized and completely dried and airtight container. Zip-lock pouches are also useful for storage. It is good to store the leaves intact and crush them only when required to retain its full flavor. Any herb showing signs of mild-dew must be immediately discarded. The containers should be kept in a dry and cool place, away from direct sunlight.