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You started them from seed in early spring and have enjoyed watching them sprout into delightful plants. Fresh peppermint and spearmint has been added to your ice tea. Savory rosemary, thyme and sage has enhanced your favorite recipes. Garlic chives and fresh parsley added to your salad has created numerous compliments from guest and family alike. So, now that the growing season is drawing to a close, how do you continue enjoying the fruits of your labor?
One of the easiest and most popular ways of preserving herbs is by drying them. For the best results when drying your herbs they should be picked around midsummer, right before they start to flower. This is when most herbs are at their peak flavor. To do this, begin first thing in the morning when you can no longer detect dew on the plants, but don't wait too long or the sun will dry up the essential oils. Begin by cutting the top sprigs of the herb or about 5 to 6 inches of the top. Keep each herb separated in a bunch. You can do this by laying out sheets of newspaper for each separate herb. When all your herbs are cut, carefully wash each bunch and shake of any excess moisture. Now you are ready to dry your herbs.
There are several methods for drying herbs. They can be separated and placed on a cookie sheet in your oven on very low heat until the leaves and stems are dry and crumble easily. Herbs can also be dried in an dehydrator. Be sure the temperature is set on low and check the herbs often, removing them immediately when they are at the crumble stage. Another method and probably the most common is air drying. This can be done simply by bunching the herbs and using a piece of cotton twine to secure them together at the base. Leave enough twine so that the bunches can be tied to hang from the ceiling of your kitchen or dining room. Using a thumb tack, or whatever method you choose to suspend the bunched herbs, attach each so it is not touching the other. Your kitchen and dining room are great areas to dry your herbs because the heat that rises while you are cooking creates a natural drying atmosphere. Leave the bunches hanging until the leaves and stems are dry and crumbly.
Herbal roots should be harvested in the fall or early spring and should be sliced to speed the drying process. Since roots take longer to dry, it is best to set them out on a paper covered cookie sheet, separating each slice. When your herbs and herbal roots are dry, place them in air tight glass jars to preserve them. Be sure to check the jars from time to time to see if any moisture has collected. If you find moisture, immediately remove the herbs or roots and place them in a very low oven to continue drying. Moisture can cause your roots and herbs to mold. Be sure to clean the jars before replacing the herbs or roots back in them. Then simply store your herbs in a dark place to help preserve their flavor.