How to Dry and Use Fresh Garden Herbs

 in Garden

There was a time in my life where my spice cabinet was not very cultured.  I remember the first time I peeled ginger and how it’s light and fresh taste dazzled me.  I remember my first time trying curry and masala and even coconut milk. Growing up we didn’t eat too badly but we relied a lot on butter, pepper and premade spice blends.  

Perhaps that is where my penchant for a spice blend began, as I was introduced to poultry seasoning, chili mix and grill rubs.  However, through college if i was cooking something there was a 99% chance that it had one very specific spice blend. Italian.

I’ve come to realize and even embrace a good spice blend.  Honestly what most of us know a “curry” is really just a blend of spices.  My favorite food, tikka masala, you guessed it a specific blend of spices.  Really if we look into any regional cuisine there are certain ingredients and spices that get blended over and over.  Like tomato, onion, and cilantro in Mexico, people all over the world are made from habits of routine and comfort.

That’s what Italian seasoning means to me, both my routine and my comfort.  As a very busy vegan it is easy to chop and stew together vegetables and my premade blends of species save me the brain power of inventing a dish.

Italian spices were something I discovered in College and it brought something more than ease to me, it brought me a profound respect for basil, rosemary and thyme. I started to use the ingredients as often separately as I did together, and the comfort of the spices helped me expand my repertoire and kitchen luster.  An over exageration of my love for some of those ingredients has, so far, never gone too far, and I’ve developed cookies, breads and soups bold in flavors.

Sometimes though, even now, I revert back to my spice blend.  Just last week my recipe called for Italian spice blend. These days are a little different though, now with my backyard garden I have a plethora of herb ingredients in constant circulation.  Often I am using the plants fresh, but still I make time to cut, dry and blend.

It’s an act of mediation to slow down your food, to harvest it knowing you aren’t going to use it until weeks or months later.  Preserving something good for yourself is an act of love.  I think the time we put into our food not only growing it, but also preparing it helps bring us peace when we consume it.

It’s common gardener knowledge that talking to your plants helps them grow better.  I’ve taken it a bit further, when I dry my plants I like to do it in a very public space.  People are often taken aback by the beauty of herbs hanging upside down. It charms them into memories of the past they don’t really remember having but are warmed through the thought of them.  In turn people give the most beautiful compliments to the drying bundles. I firmly believe these plants are soaking in those positive thoughts and exclamations from our loved ones as they dry and there they are held until we in turn eat them up.

Enough hokey-ness, let’s get down to drying.

Drying
It’s simple really.
Cut as much of the plant as you need, or if it’s the end of the season all of it, into even lengthed pieces.
I usually make my cuttings between 10-12 inches long, but it depends on the plant.
You are going to tie 3-4 stems together so if you have different sizes, group them for best length matching.

I use a local material called henequén to tie my herbs, but you can use any tie line you have available.

Make a length of cord about 5 inches long,
around 3-4 cut stems, tie a simple overhand knot (like how you start your shoes),
flip over and tie again.

Hang in a place with good airflow, and/or direct sun.

I dry for at least 2 weeks before use.

Dry Blending
I use a mortar and pestle because I can, but it isn’t required.  
I think it the most amazing experience to reconnect to the food with time, energy, and thought after growing it for months in the garden why would you want to disrespect it with a blender.  Grinding spices, like weeding is a movement meditation and while I am doing it I think only about my breath and the smells of the herbs.

I realize however we don’t live in an idealized world, some people have mobility or strength issues or even time restrains.  Pulsing the spices in a blender will also yield an amazing blend. When I am pressed for time and running too low on an ingredient the blender is always my best friend.

I love each of the spices equally and like to do an even mix.
Grind 20-50 g of each dry herb in a mortar until finely crushed, 15-20 mins
Or in a blender for 5-10 pulses.

I use 25 g each of:
Rosemary
Thyme
Oregano
Basil

When I lived in the states I would cut and dry my basil each year. However now in the tropics I can grow it year round, and I prefer to add it fresh when I have the chance. So if you buy an italian blend it will always have basil, I encourage it in both dry and fresh forms.


Oil Infusions
Another way I love to use my dried herbs is by soaking them in olive oil.
Pack any sized jar (I usually use a 200 gr sized jar) full of your favorite dried herb(s).
Cover in olive oil.
Let sit in a sunny place 2 weeks up to a month.
Use the flavored oil over salads, quinoa or roasted veggies.

Tea
Sometimes we get stuck in the idea of chia and green tea that we forget anything dried we have around can be used to make a tasty cup of hot water. You can also add herbs to prepackaged tea to change up your daily routine.

I recommend using  2-3 leaves per cup.
I suggest rosemary, mint and thyme especially.
Add the herbs at the same time you start the water to boil.
Enjoy as you would any tea.

Storage
After dried individual spices can be stored whole or ground in glass jars for up to 1 year.

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