The Herb Woman
She harvests yards and countryside
And hangs the dried snippets tied
or braided, their aromas reeling
from the rafters of her ceiling -
Fennel, bergamot and yarrow
Plucked to song of thrush or sparrow,
Coriander, mustard, squill
Bay and basil, anise and dill,
Catnip, sage and elderflowers.
Blessed in potent thunder showers,
Witch hazel leaves and cherry bark
Frilled with snows of winter's dark.
So she listens - gives advice
Dispensing freely - herbs and spice
My herb gardenÂ yields an abundant harvest of a wonderful variety of culinary, medicinal and fragrant herbs. Â There are many ways to preserve these wonders of nature - preserving in jellies and pesto, oil infusions, vinegars, freezing and the simplicity of air drying.My herb harvest hanging from the rafters of the barn at the White Bridge Farm - the perfect environment of good air circulation out of direct sunlight.
Here are some guidelines to help you achieve success with air drying.Â Following proper procedures will lessen the chances of your cherished garden harvest turning into a gathering of dried brown failures.
It is of vital importance to harvest the herbs at the peak of flavor. Older herbs become woody and have spent their energy on producing seeds losing their aroma and flavors. The best time to pick your herbs is before they flower, just beginning to form buds is optimum. Â Exceptions are herbs similar to lavenders and everlasting flowers that you want to dry for floral display and things like chamomile when the flowers are used for herbal teas. These should be harvested when theÂ blossomsÂ begin to open.
Chose a dry early morning just after the dew has dried.Â I harvest with sharp garden or kitchen shears placing handfuls of good quality plant materials into my harvest basket. Â Do not choose herbs that are damaged or beyond their peak as it is a waste of time and energy to preserve something inferior. Â You can trim them back and wait for a second flush ofÂ foliageÂ to harvest at a later time. Â Move quickly to a shaded spot or garden shed to preserve the freshness of the herbs.Â
Gather each individual herb into small groups, too many stems will lessenÂ probabilityÂ for the even drying that is desired.Â Secure with a rubber band which will contract as the herbs dry. If you desire, you can use raffia or rustic garden twine as it is more aesthetically pleasing but it will have to be adjusted as the herbs lose their volume during the drying process.Â Hang from a rack, rafters or line in a place with good air circulation out of direct sunlight. Â Do not overcrowd them.
Monitor for obvious problems such as insect infestation, too much moisture, or mold.Â It will take about a week depending on the size of the bouquets, humidity in the air and other factors such as the moisture content of each individual herb bundle.Â The herbs are ready when the leaves are crispy dry and the stems are brittle. Â You want them to retain their color and beneficial oils so do not allow them to over dry.
Â Once dry you can prepare them for storage.Â If you are using them for pure decorative purposes, you can allow them to hang as is or simply display them in a basket.Â If you want to use them for culinary or herbal preparations you should protect them from gathering dust and humidity.Â
You can store properly dried bunches protected with a paper bag over the leafy part of the herb. Leaves are easily stripped off by hand on to parchment paper then the paper is lifted to fill the storage containers.Â I prefer to keep mine in large whole leaves but you can crush them with a mortar and pestle if you desire.Â Place them into labeled glass jars or tins. Â Always label carefully because it can be difficult to identify once the dried material is removed from the stems. They can be stored in a dark dry cupboard and will retain their desired properties and essential oils for up to one year.
Â If you are harvesting roots for herbal preparations, you should dig up the mature root and carefully clean it with plenty of fresh running water removing any foreign materials and soil.Â The cleaned root can be dried on a screen or parchment paper.Â I recommend turning them every couple of days to assure even drying.Â Roots typically take a longer dry time. It can be helpful to slice or chop the root into even pieces before drying to insure a properly cured item.Â Be certain they are dried throughout the thickest part before storing.
Many herbs dry well in bunches: bay, rosemary, calendula, dill, thyme, summer savory, sage, lavender, florals, mints, yarrow, echinacea, lemon balm and everlasting flowers like straw flowers, gypsophilia, cockscomb, pepperberries, wheat grasses etc.
If you are just using the roots, blossoms, pods and petals for teas, potpourri and sachets you can dry snippets on wood trays, screens or parchment paper. Â Herbs like basil have a higher water content so they do not dry well in bunches. Â Dry them as individual leaves in a single layer with plenty of space. Â These herbs do well with screen drying:
Basil, catnip, chives, feverfew, hops, ladyâ€™s mantle, lavender,
lemon balm, marjoram, mints oregano, rosemary, rose hips, sage, savory, yarrow.
I will use these herbs in my products, herbal infusions for soaps, balms, butters and creams as well as culinary pursuits and fragrant decor of wreaths, swags and sachets.
I hope you will give this age old tradition of preserving your herbal treasures a try. Â It has been perfected through the ages and has stood the test of time with ease and simplicity.
Thanks for visiting,