Harvesting and Preserving Herbs

For drying herbs on a screen, there are commercially made driers or you can use one made from old window screening elevated by wood, bricks, books, or rocks. Make sure the air will circulate over and under the screen. Wash the herb leaves, blot dry and carefully remove them from the stems. Place leaves on the screen to dry, turning once or twice to make certain they dry evenly. The window screens can be stacked several high by crisscrossing them on each other to conserve space. If using a commercial drier, follow the instructions with it.

A third way to dry herbs is in the microwave by placing leaves in a single layer between two paper towels. Dry for 2 minutes and then continue to microwave for 30 second intervals until leaves are brittle. For future reference, keep records of how long each variety takes to dry.

A few herbs lose color or flavor when dried. Chervil, chives, fennel and burnet are best preserved by freezing. Parsley and dill can be stored for a short time in the refrigerator if wrapped in a moist paper towel. Burnet, chervil, fennel, parsley and tarragon benefit from blanching in boiling water for 1 minute and cooled in ice water before being wrapped and frozen. The other herbs just need to be washed, stems removed leaves wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic bags and frozen. For convenience, herbs may be packaged in amounts to be used. One way to do this is by placing 2 cups of herbs in a blender with 1 cup of water and blend well. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze. The cubes can be stored in plastic bags for quick and fresh seasonings in soups and stews. Herb leaves retain more flavor if they are left whole and crushed or ground as needed. If a stored herb has no scent even after crushing, it will have no flavor and should be discarded. Store dried herbs away from light and heat in airtight containers.

Leonora Franke
September, 1997