Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

National Herb Day! National Herb Week! Growing and Drying.

Sweet Basil and Bay
Dear Folks,

Saturday May 5th is National Herb Day.

National Herb Week begins Monday May 7th and ends on Mother's Day May 13th.

These National observance of our useful plants are annually on the first Saturday of May and the First full week of May.

I think this celebration of herbs ending on Mother's Day, is fitting as you could prepare some herbs, either as a bouquet or dried herbs for her to enjoy and use.

Some of my happy herbs right now (besides the Sweet Basil and Bay Tree) are:

Left to Right:

Syrian Oregano, Lime Balm, Greek Oregano, Myrtle, Lemon Thyme and Spanish Thyme and Lime Scented Geranium growing together.

I dry most of my herbs when I can't use them fresh to preserve all that great flavor.

When they are small enough batches I dry in the refrigerator, on baking cooling racks.  If I have large quantities I dry in the sun using some dehydrator trays I picked up at a yard sale several years ago.

Of the two methods, the refrigerator drying produces dried herbs with more essential oils (flavor and aroma) and color preserved.  This is because our modern refrigerators mimic commercial freeze drying by constantly removing excess moisture from the chilled air.

Pictured are dill (I just put a pile of fresh next to the mostly dried prior batch), chervil, cilantro and I'itoi onion tops.

Here is a picture showing the type of rack and also showing the 1x2 piece of wood (also shown above).  There are 2 pieces of wood on the ends of the first tray, which allows me to stack the racks in my refrigerator top rack.  I selected the coated rack and the size to fit the top shelf just perfectly, so they are out of the way and can take as long as necessary to be perfectly dried before I put them in mason jars, labeled, in my dark pantry.

It is imperative that you make sure they are completely dry before storing or you risk mold - NOT a good thing.

In the frig picture both racks are stacked but only the cilantro is showing.  This picture is when I first put the herbs in - about 4 weeks ago.  The dill is not quite dry in the first picture above. However you can compare the dried cilantro in that picture to the one showing it fresh in this picture, as well as the fresh dill compared to the dried beside it.

Drying in the refrigerator can take anywhere from 1 week to over 4 weeks depending on 1) the size of the leaves and 2) the volume you are drying all at once.

Sun drying takes from 1 to 2 days depending on temperature and in some cases on a very dry 90+ degree plus day the herbs can dry in a few hours.

Here is a comparison of some of my onions I dried a couple of years ago.  Green tops and bulbs separated and chopped.  Fresh at the top and dried at the bottom.

If you are sun drying and they are not quite dried (remember they must be perfectly dried to store safely) bring them into the house overnight to avoid them reabsorbing moisture then put them back out the next day to finish drying.

Sun Drying your herbs, fruits and vegetables is a win/win - no electricity used and you take advantage of our natural sun and heat.  The sun drying works best on bright sunny days of at least 75+ degrees.  The hotter the better but you can use the cool days, it just may take the extra day to complete the drying.

One last thing.  If you grow your own vegetables along with the herbs - make your own dried bouillon powder, salt free.

I need to make some more myself.  The flavor in this is outstanding!!  Seriously.  Celery gives a bit of taste of salt, but the real flavor comes from combining some vegetables, herbs, onions (TIP do NOT include garlic - you can add later -- you want the flavor of the other components to stand out).  I have used it to make a soup stock, add to dressings and I have also coated meats etc. with it before roasting or grilling.

Click here to read my post on making your own dried bouillon.

Growing Herbs?  When to plant in the desert southwest or USDA Zone 9b and above.

I have a simple chart in PDF form which covers 48 herbs with some additional information on many of them.  I include some companion planting and pairing tips.

Click here to review and purchase.  $5.  There is a preview available. The pictures are all herbs from my gardens.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

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