Drying Herbs And Roots
Drying the herbs and roots often grown in small gardens and flower beds are great for use in the later winter months.
Can you imagine our forefathers hanging these sweet smelling plants above the mantles of fireplaces in their kitchens or attics? As they begin to dry, the blending of their pungent bouquet must have been very interesting, to say the least. They traditionally used them for seasoning food and for medicinal purposes.
Flowers, roots, seeds, and leaves of many plants can be dried adding unique flavor and fragrance to our food. We need not be limited to the actual growing season to enjoy our herbs; after drying they can be enjoyed all year long.
The essential oils of the plants need to be at their highest concentration before cutting. The highest level of oils in leafy herb basil, savory, chervil, and marjoram occur just before they blossom. Lemon balm, parsley, rosemary, and sage can be cut as many as 3-4 times during their season of growing. Cut them early in the morning but wait until the dew is off the plants. It is best to do the cuttings on a day that promises to we warm and dry. Cut off the top growth. Leave 4-6 inches of the stem below the buds.
Hanging the Herbs
Rinse the leaves briefly under cool running water. Shake off the excess water and hang the herbs. Tie in small bunches perhaps 3-5 hang leaves down. This will allow the oils to flow from the stems to the leaves. Hang in a dry, well-ventilated, warm place. Avoid hanging in bright sunlight. To keep dust off you may place a paper bag over them, cutting holes in the bag for aeration. This will protect the leaves from darkening which will happen if exposed to too much sunlight. It will take approximately two weeks to completely dry. If within that period of time they are still not entirely dry, they may be placed in an oven heated at 100 degrees until they crumble between the fingers.
When the head's “pods” have changed color it is time to harvest. Some of the common seeds are anise, coriander, cumin, caraway, dill, and fennel plants. Spread the “pods” on a tray in one layer only. When the seeds appear to be dry, rub them between the palms of your hands and the seeds will separate easily from the pods. Another way of drying is to hang the whole plant upside down in a porous bag the bag will catch the seeds as they dry and fall.
Roots are thicker than seeds, flowers, and leaves, which makes the drying process longer. Some roots that are dried successfully are burdock sassafras, ginseng, ginger, and comfrey. Roots should be dug carefully during the plant's stage of dormancy. During this period of time there is food stored in the plant cells. Most generally this is during the fall or winter. Scrub them clean with a brush and cut them lengthwise. The smaller roots may be left whole. Drying is achieved more readily in an oven on very low for several hours.
Leaves retain their essential oils better if left whole after drying and crushed when actually used. When the shell of seeds is broken they decline rapidly. If kept whole and stored correctly they will last a few years. Store in sealed jars and watch them carefully for 2-3 weeks If they appear to gather moisture take them out and re-dry them. If not completely dry they could acquire mold. Store in cool place with low light.