One thing I have come to look forward to every winter is when I get around to pulling out all the medicinal and culinary herbs that I have gathered and dried in the summer, removing them one by one from their paper bags and processing them into teas and spices. I mean, if you can’t go smell the flowers outside in January, might as well enjoy a fragrant dried bouquet, or add some pretty summer blossoms to your tea, right? One of the main goals when harvesting medicinal and culinary herbs for drying is to preserve as much of their potency, flavor, and color as humanly possible. You want that bunch of dried herbs to look, smell, and taste as much like it did 6 months ago when you picked it.
So here are a few tips and considerations to keep in mind when you harvest and dry your herbs for ensuring maximum potency:
1) Weather Conditions: First of all, you want to make sure that weather conditions are right for harvesting your herbs. The best conditions for harvesting herbs are dry and warm weather. Moisture can spell out disaster for your drying plant material, causing mold and spoilage. So, wait for a few consecutive sunny dry days before you set out to harvest your medicinal herbs.
2) Harvest Quality: Harvest only healthy, vibrant looking plant material. Trim and discard leaves and plant parts that are discolored or sun-bleached. Also make sure to use care when harvesting herbs to incur the least amount of damage to the remaining plants a as possible.
3) Storage: This is very important. You want to protect your freshly harvested plant material from developing mold and also protect it from household dust and light. One great technique I use for this is to divide up the plant material in small, loosely gathered bunches and then to place the fresh herbs directly into brown paper lunch bags to dry. Be sure to label the bags with the name of the herbs and the date and location it was harvested
(trust me, you won’t remember what the heck is in that bag a few months later). Place the bags in a dry, well ventilated environment, such as on a shelf in your pantry. Keeping the herbs in paper bags for drying will ensure that your herbs will not be exposed to light, moisture, and dust, which will in turn protect the color, freshness, and quality of your drying plant material.
Heres a bunch of lavender that we picked last summer:
And here’s what I pulled out of the bag yesterday:
Ok the lighting is bad, but c’mon, that’s pretty good, right? 🙂
Now for the final step of drying your herbs: having fun using them! When you pull the herbs out of the bags a few months later, that is a good time to process them into spices and tea. This will ensure that you will actually use and enjoy your herbs, as opposed to letting them sit on the back of your shelf collecting dust until next spring. You can place the bulk plant material into a bowl and gently crush it into small pieces, discarding the stems. This will shrink down the storage space needed for your dried herbs considerably and prepare them for immediate household use. You can then place the freshly crushed herbs into new or recycled jars in your kitchen, and enjoy the fragrant and delicious addition of fresh medicinal teas and culinary herbs in your diet all winter long.