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Part IV: Cut and Dried: Handling the Herbal Bounty in VS .NET
Part IV: Cut and Dried: Handling the Herbal Bounty
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You ve seen country shops or photographs in which bundles of herbs hang from the ceiling on tidy twists of twine They always look quaint and homey Hanging is actually a good and relatively easy way to dry herbs as long as you remember a few basics The goal is to dry your herbs quickly in order to retain as much of their fresh flavor as possible Fast drying keeps medicinal properties intact, as well
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The key to drying herbs this way is location The perfect place to hang your herbs must be Dark: The sun bleaches and discolors herbs, stealing their precious oils and making them ugly, to boot This effect pretty much rules out outdoor locations, except perhaps a roofed porch on the north side of your house Even indoors, you may need to block sun coming in windows Dry: It seems silly to say that a place for drying herbs should be dry, but some gardeners think a kitchen is a logical place to dry culinary herbs, forgetting how humid that room is Ditto the bathroom Humidity is another reason most outdoor sites don t work, except perhaps in the southwestern United States Even overnight dew can retard the process Attics are often good, but if you live in a humid climate, you need to hook up a dehumidifier there as well Warm: Herbs dry best where the temperature stays between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit Near the end of the process, which averages about 2 weeks, 90 degrees Fahrenheit is okay This high heat is another reason why many people choose attics to dry their herbs Just keep an eye on the temperature to make sure that it doesn t get much hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or the quality of the dried herbs will decline Clean: Steer clear of sheds or rooms where you fill your lawnmower or use other chemicals, or any areas where mice may play periodically And that attic that was looking so good how often do you vacuum or dust it To keep culinary herbs sanitary, many herb gardeners envelop them loosely in cheesecloth or in paper bags punched full of holes Well ventilated: Moisture is the biggest enemy of herbs that are doing their darnedest to dry Cross-ventilation from open doors and windows is the most natural solution If all else fails, a fan set on low helps to stir the air
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Don t hang bunches of herbs against a wall or too close to each other 6 inches apart is a minimum distance You can bunch together as many as ten stems of a single herb if it has small leaves, as thyme does, but if you re drying succulent herbs, such as basil, borage, or comfrey, keep the bundle to six stems or fewer
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11: Harvesting and Preserving
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The best herbs for hanging in bundles are those that have long stems, such as lavender and yarrow Other good candidates to suspend, batlike, in a cool, dark, dry location are anise, artemisia, borage, caraway, chamomile, costmary, feverfew, hyssop, and lady s bedstraw (Galium verum) You can also hang marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, rue, sage, santolina, savory, sweet Cicely, sweet woodruff, tansy, tarragon, and thyme For the record, many flowers also air-dry well Flowers for hanging in bundles include alliums (garlic, onion, chive), artemisias, calendula, clary sage, goldenrod, hop, lavender, sage, tansy, and yarrow
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Although hemp twine looks charming, rubber bands are a more practical way to tie herb stems together Unlike twine, rubber bands contract as the stems dry and shrink, so stems are less likely to fall out You can hang the bundles from individual hooks in the ceiling, but it s more efficient to set two hooks several feet or yards apart, string a clothesline between them, and suspend the bundles of herbs from the line To expand that space even more, use clothes hangers and clip three or four bundles of herbs to the hanger with clothespins You can also clothespin bundles of herbs to a portable drying rack Now wait and watch Check your harvest often, because herbs can take anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks to dry it all depends on the plant and the weather Leaves are dry when they feel stiff and crumbly, like a cornflake Plant leaves are quick to reabsorb moisture from the air, so the minute they re completely dry, put the herbs into airtight containers and store in a cool, dark place (Most experts agree that flavors last longer if you keep the leaves whole rather than crushing them) Opaque glass containers are best, but clear glass is fine as long as your storage cabinet is a certified black hole Light and moisture erode herbs freshness As a last safeguard against any undetected moisture, wrap a tablespoon of dried milk in an unscented facial tissue to act as a desiccant and place it in the container Even when stored properly, herbs lose much of their oomph after six months But by then, of course, you ll be started on next year s seedlings!
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