I am always saving and collecting little glass bottles. They’re so perfect for homemade spice mixes, sauces, dressings, baby food, yogurt… you name it. They also line my medicine cabinet brimming with assorted homemade creams, tinctures, toothpaste, and other ridiculous concoctions. I especially love cramming a bit of earth and tree moss into them to fill any barren nooks in this house that are needing a little green. Speaking of green…
Used glass herb bottles are almost always upcycled in my home as… yes, herb bottles. And since harvest season is upon me again, I’ve been busy at work bottling up pieces of my garden to accompany me through winter. And my preferred method of preserving them: hang-drying. Undoubtedly the easiest and most inexpensive way to dry herbs and the best method for yielding the highest quality flavor. In case you’re interested, this is what I do…
- herbs for drying
- paper bags
- wooden laundry clips
♠ Prepare herbs: Note — the lower moisture varieties are best suited for air-drying (sage, thyme, dill, rosemary, etc.) whereas the higher moisture varieties (basil, mint, etc.) are more prone to molding if not dried quickly. I, however, have dried both this way and have never had problems with mold. If possible, harvest herbs when they are heaviest with fragrance (or when their oils are most concentrated = best flavor). Generally this is before they flower. Cut the herbs in mid-morning when the dew has dried but before the hot sun.
♠ Cut branches (longer stems are easier for bundling) and gently shake to remove insects or dirt. Pick off damaged/dead leaves. Refrain from washing them after this point as it will only remove some of the essencial oils, thus compromising flavor. It would be better to give them a little rinse the day before or early morning and then allow it to dry completely before harvesting. Because I garden organically I don’t have to worry about chemical residue either.
♠ Bunch herbs together in small, similarly-sized bunches (~5–10 branches). Use smaller bunches for higher-moisture herbs.
♠ Using some string or swine, tie the stems together tightly (they may loosen/shrink as they dry). You will want the herbs to hang upside down. This will allow the oils to flow from the stems into the leaves.
♠ Grab your paper bags. Label them with the herb name and date. To allow for some circulation, snip/punch several small holes into the bag. Covering your herbs with bags helps protect the leaves from direct sunlight and dust. Leave some length to your string to allow it to escape through the top as you carefully place each bundle of herbs upside down inside its respected bag. Secure the end of the string as you pinch the bag closed and clamp with a staple or two. I prefer this method as it allows the whole of the bundle to hang freely.
♠ Hang bags in a warm, dry, airy room (where there is plenty of ventilation and no moisture). Never the kitchen — too many smells and moisture floating around. A dry cellar, hallway, or bedroom work great. Use wooden laundry clips and additional string to suspend bags or clip them somewhere they will be secure (like an unfinished fall banner…hmm).
♠ Allow herbs to dry for 1–2 weeks (the higher-moisture varieties take longer to dry).
♠ Remove the herb bundles from the bags and observe for mold growth. If any mold is noted then throw them away. The leaves should be completely dry and crunch/crumble between your fingers. Strip the dried leaves from the stems and discard the stems. Tip: For smaller leaves, like thyme, I’ve found it helpful to remove the leaves by gently pulling my fingers down the stem against the leave growth. Keep the leaves as intact and whole as you can as this will help keep some of their wonderful qualities (crush them only before you use them).
♠ Store the dry leaves in clean, dry, glass containers with tight-fitting lids away from sunlight.