Drying herbs

Frankly, I always pick my herbs and hang and dry them in bunches. Research indicates that this is not the best way to dry some herbs to preserve the most flavor. I wrote earlier about drying small-leaved herbs in bunches; that seems to work because one cooks with sprigs of these herbs or the small, dried leaves are easy to strip from their stems. Large -leafed herbs such as sage, basil and mint, however, are better dried on screens, I learned.

Rinse the leaves the night before. Pick the leaves early in the morning. These herbs will dry more rapidly when you remove the leaves from the stems before you dry the herbs on the screens. Once the excess moisture has evaporated, lay out the herb leaves on small, clean window screens placed flat so air circulates on both sides. Or make a frame over which you suspect cheesecloth. Again, air must circulate on the top and bottom of the screen.

You can also oven-dry herbs. Spread the herb leaves on baking trays and place in a hot oven, 375-400 degrees, with the oven door ajar. Watch carefully so the herbs become crisp but not burned. This takes just a few minutes. It’s a good way to process parsley and cilantro as oven-drying captures the flavor and color of the herbs.

However you choose to dry your herbs, once they are crispy and dry, you can crumble them easily in your fingers and store them in jars for use all winter. Some leaves such as bay leaves are usually left whole and are not crumbled.

You can make herb butters with the dried herbs as well as with fresh herbs. And don’t forget you can dry herbs all season long. I usually dry herbs in the fall because I want to continue to enjoy the delicious things I’ve grown this season before frost comes.

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