Affordable herbs – dry them yourself

If you have good soil located in a sunny spot or some planters, you can grow your own herbs at home.

Herbs are a great way to flavor almost any food, but buying them at the store can be expensive. A more cost-effective option is to grow your own.

If you have good soil located in a sunny spot or some planters, you can grow your own herbs at home. Choose and plant the herbs that you use most to season foods.

Treat herbs like any other plant. Pruning and cutting back the leaves brings about even more leaves. As you cut and use fresh basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme, they will continue to grow. In fact, herbs may grow faster than you can use them.

An alternative to letting the extra go to waste is to dry your own. Dried fresh herbs lose their moisture, but still retain the flavor of a fresh plant. You will now have herbs to last for months and you can pass them on to friends once they are dried.

First, you will need a place to dry them. You may use wooden or wire racks. In fact, the cooling rack you use for cookies and cakes is perfect for drying herbs. You will also need a colander, some cheesecloth, paper towels and string.

All herbs to be dried should be washed and rinsed in cold water. Using a colander allows the water to drain out the bottom. Use paper towels to pat each leaf and stalk until they are dry of any visible moisture.

Herbs can be dried in many ways. If you only want the leaves, remove the stalk and lay the leaves on a drying rack. Depending on the size of the leaves, you may need a wire rack instead of the cooling rack from the kitchen.

Herbs can also be dried in bunches. Tie the stalks together with string and hang them upside down from a nail to air-dry. This can be done outside or indoors in an area that is ventilated with no humidity. If you plan on letting them dry outside, use cheesecloth to cover the herbs on a cooling rack.

For faster drying, use the oven. The temperature should remain low (around 120 degrees F). Gently touch the leaves every half-hour to test for dryness.

Dried herbs will keep for about six months. After that, their flavors begin to wane. Herbs should be stored in labeled Mason jars or plastic containers so that you know which herb is which. In order to keep the herbs dry and avoid molding during storage, make sure the containers have airtight seals.

Herbs season our food in many unique and delicious ways. Drying herbs enables you to savor the flavor, save money and have fun all at the same time.

 

Sources: nchfp.uga.edu and www.herbcompanion.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 31, Number 2, April/May 2012.

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