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Blue Bungalow Farm

Heather Zydek writes about life on the east side of Tosa.

How to Dry Herbs

food preservation, drying herbs, seed saving, basil

I admit I'm much better at growing food than I am at preserving it. My small urban lot only produces so much in the way of tomatoes, zucchini, and carrots. Most years, I manage to cook everything I've grown for our family of five before it goes bad. So I have yet to figure out canning. 

That said, I do preserve some of the herbs that grow on my tiny "farm." I grow a lot of them – everything from basil to tarragon and lovage – and while I don't save all my herbs when the cold winds blow in, I do like to preserve the things I may use in the winter. 

Here's how I save my herbs: 

- First, I cut them close to the base. If the plant is a lower-growing annual, I pull it up by the roots.
- I wash off all dirt and debris and dry the cutting or plant on newspaper
- When the plant is dry, I bunch it together and tie the root ends with a long piece of twine. In other words, the bunch should be tied so that it can dry hanging upside down.
- I label the plant by cutting index cards into strips, punching a whole in each piece and writing the name of the plant on the strip, then sliding it onto the twine through the hole. 
- Finally, I hang the plant with twine in an undisturbed corner of my house. Ideally, the corner is dark, as sunlight can reduce the potency of drying herbs. My herbs hang on another piece of twine extended between two hooks I hung on my wall.
When the herbs are crispy and crumble to the touch in a couple of weeks, I pull them down and, on a newspaper, gently crumble the leaves into a storage container. Then I mark the container with the herb name and date. 
If properly dried and stored, they should last quite a while – at least as long as store-bought herbs, though the potency of the herbs will go down over time. 
And the quality! Healthy, home grown herbs (especially of the organically grown variety) smell and taste so much more aromatic than dried herbs from the store, which sometimes smell a notch or two above sawdust (especially after sitting on a kitchen shelf for a year or two). Nothing compares to fresh basil, but when I don't have any fresh basil on hand this stuff is a great substitute.
So far this year I've dried, basil, oregano, parsley, lemon balm, lemon grass, mint, and fuchsia mums. I use the basil, oregano and parsley in soups and sauces, or to season pizza. The lemon balm, lemon grass, and mint are for tea. 
If you have herbs and they haven't died or gone dormant yet, you can still dry them using this method. It's easy, cheap, and produces higher quality herbs than you can get from the store (with the possible exception of the Spice House in Tosa – their herbs and seasonings are divine!) 
Incidentally, around the time that I harvested my herbs I also saved my basil seeds. I let some of my basil go to flower and then seed. When the seeds were hard, brown and dry and all the leaves had fallen off the plants, I stripped off the seed pods and put them in a bag. I've read that you can cook with Basil seeds, but I plan to grow mine. I try to keep some basil plants indoors every year so I can get that fresh basil taste year-round.

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