A herb is defined as a plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers that are used for flavouring, food, medicine, fragrance or other useful applications. There are lots of reasons to dry your own herbs - It's fun, it's a way of preserving a glut or something that has a short season, and you know where it comes from and how it's been treated. It also is a great way to take advantage of the hundreds of useful plants that grow wild, and that have a multitude of uses once you start to look into them. Regular readers will know that we are on a foraging journey this year, with the aim to increase our knowledge of the uses for wild plants growing in our area of the UK.
I should point out that of the herbs I picked today, not all of them are for culinary use, so please don't think that just because you can see them in the basket, that they are safe to eat. As with all foraging it is important to know what you are picking and how to use them safely.
The general consensus is to harvest herbs and flowers mid-morning before newly developed essential oils have been burned off by the sun, but after the dew has dried. We live in the UK, so to be honest I go more for the approach of harvest when its not pouring with rain!
Chose young healthy leaves without damage, that way they are less likely to already have molds on them, and for flowers, chose ones that are either in bud or just opened.
Drying Wild Herb and Flower Stems in Bunches
Tie stems of herbs and flowers into bundles and hang upside down, in a warm, dry place, ideally with good air circulation. This may turn out not be the kitchen, due to it's humidity - although for us it works well due to having the Aga in it.
Note as stems dry they will shrink, so it can be useful to use an elastic band, or bag tie that will grip them tightly.
Some people place a paper bag over their bunch to aid with the drying process, and protect from sunlight. This can also be useful if you want to catch any seeds released by your herbs.
Rack Drying Wild Herbs and Flowers
Rack drying is the method we usually use. As well as herbs and flowers, we also use it to dry citrus slices and peel.
For individual leaves, small sprigs and flowers use a rack such as a cooling rack, and place your herbs on a piece of muslin, tea or kitchen towel. Leave in a warm place, out of direct sunlight to dry - herbs and flowers can take anything from a few hours to a few days to dry, depending on the amount of moisture within them, and the air.
Microwave drying herbs and flowers
This is the first time I have tried this method, and it is an absolute revelation! To dry herbs in a microwave, strip the leaves from the stems, and place between layers of paper towels on a microwave safe plate. I started by giving my herbs a 20 second blast, followed by 10 second blasts, checking them in between.
The plates above show plantain and mint before drying, and the plate below shows all the herbs I successful dried in the microwave; the leaves from plantain, mint, nettle, bramble, and meadowsweet. Flowers appear a bit more hit and miss. My Clover flowers were quite successful, by the honeysuckle not so much. It clearly is a matter of experimenting, but I will definitely be using this method again. None of the items on the plate took more than a minute to dry, which I was astounded by!
Drying plant matter is a great way of preserving it, for both culinary and other craft applications. All the leaves and flowers I dried today are for a special project which I will be sharing with you shortly