It’s that time of year! Your herb garden is going crazy and you have baskets full of fresh herbs available, so you pick them…and then what? Fresh herbs are absolutely fabulous in recipes and for lots of other uses too, but you can only use so many at a time. Right? And what will you do in the winter when your herb garden goes into hibernation, and you need herbs for all those fabulous recipes? There are several ways to preserve herbs, but drying is one of my favorites. It is quick and easy, and allows you to preserve your herbs for quite a long time. So, let’s talk about drying herbs! There are bunches of ways to dry herbs…in the oven, dehydrator and even hanging them to dry. But the fastest and easiest method it to use your microwave! Gasp! What would the pioneers say? It’s okay…times change, and we eventually figure out quicker ways to do things! I will teach you how to dry your herbs in just a few minutes so you can use them later as you choose.
First, go out in the garden and pick a bunch of herbs. It is best to pick them in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the hottest part of the day sets in. When you are cutting your herbs, you can use a pair of small scissors, your fingers, or even a small pocketknife if you like. It is best to cut the stem just above a double leaf set…this will promote bushier growth and fuller plants. So, once you have loaded up your basket, head inside and we’ll get started!
First, make sure your plants do not have insects or anything on them. Shake them off, or rinse them if you need to. If you rinse them, they will need to lay out and dry before putting them into the microwave. Alternatively, you can brush them off with a small brush to remove any debris, etc. Place 1-2 paper towels on a microwave-safe plate. Put your herbs onto the paper towels. You can pick the leaves off now, or leave them for later. It’s your choice. I will show you both examples. After you have laid the herbs out on the paper towels, cover them with one more paper towel and place them in your microwave.
For safety, I always put a small plastic dish of water into the microwave when I do this to prevent the microwave from overheating. If you are doing multiple batches of herbs at one time, change the water out frequently to prevent boiling. Now, once your plate of herbs and your dish of water are in the microwave, heat them on full power for 60 seconds. Check the herbs to see if they are dried enough. Some herbs are thicker than others and contain more moisture, so you will need to check them individually. Also, microwave temperatures and wattages differ, so that can affect the length of time as well. If your herbs are still not dry, pulse your microwave 15 seconds at a time until they are done. I actually like to get them almost completely dry…and then leave them on my countertop for a couple of hours to air-dry and remove every last bit of moisture. This prevents them from getting too brown in the microwave as well.
Once the herbs are dry, remove them from the paper towel (it will be slightly damp from the moisture it has absorbed) and put them into a small dish. If you are drying another batch, go ahead and do that now. Be sure to use another paper towel if the original one is moist. Continue microwaving your herbs until they are all dried.
Once they have all been dried, you can begin to strip the herbs from the stems. For herbs like rosemary, the leaves will come right off as you run your fingers down the stem. For leafy herbs like lemon balm, it is better to actually pick the leaves off individually to prevent getting too many broken stems in your dried herbs.
Once you have stripped all of your herbs, throw away the stems. You should be left with several bowls of freshly dried herbs ready to be used. One thing I would like to mention at this point is how beautiful the herbs look after drying them this way. Because the microwave evaporates the water from them so quickly, they tend to retain a lot more of their vibrant color and flavor than if you use other methods.
Now, you need to figure out how you’d like to store your dried herbs. There are several ways to do this. The most important thing is to keep them somewhere that is cool and dry…and preferably dark. This will help to preserve the color and flavor even longer.
Glass spice jars are a great option for storage if you have them available, and metal tins work well too. You can also use small plastic bags or plastic containers as long as they have an airtight seal. You can store the dried herbs in their leaf form, or you can crush them into whatever size you like. Either way, they will work just as well to add wonderful fresh flavors to all the dishes you cook. If your recipe calls for fresh herbs, you can substitute dried herbs using the following formula: 1tsp dried herb = 1Tbs fresh herbs……and vice versa.
Now that you know how to dry and store your herbs, you can grow as many as you want! You will have plenty to use all winter long…and even enough to share with your friends and neighbors! Herbs are a great way to season your foods, and are a much healthier alternative than things like salt, etc., so don’t be afraid to experiment with them in your favorite recipes.
“An herb is a weed you can eat.” – Bartell Desmond
Salty kisses and sandy hugs! xoxo – Michele