Of the several flowers and plants I’ve grown in my gardening adventures, there aren’t many that rival the “Wow! I did it!”- factor quite like herbs. They’re pretty, typically grow well without requiring any work from me, and you GET something out of it. And the I-Wanna-Be-Claire version of me wanted to pass along what I’ve learned about drying herbs. While I do use fresh herbs, there’s just no way that I can use as much of the fresh greens as my plants provide, so I like to dry them and keep them for later. I typically stick to just a few basic herbs (sage, rosemary, oregano, mint and basil) and for this post I’m going to cover my most recent oregano harvest.
So, while my harvesting adventure wasn’t nearly as risky as romping through the back-country with redcoats or Mohawk on my tail, I’m pretty sure I tripped over at least one pool noodle and a mini-dachshund on my way. But, thankfully I didn’t get hurt. I was lucky. I was even holding scissors. It could’ve been awful.
But back to the oregano…. I like to cut my herbs in the morning when the plants are nice and soft. Not when they’re all wilty and stressed out during the day. And because this particular day was going to be a hot sunny day, it was perfect for the drying-method I had in mind.
I simply cut the plants, and laid them out to dry in the sun on a nice clean sheet.
Tip: Before I cut the plants, I took a bit of time to do remove some of the nasty looking leaves, and was on the look-out for any creepy crawlers – after all, I want wee herbs, not wee-creepers. I find it easier to prune the plants before I cut them – it just seems easier for me to see the bad stuff, but do whatever works for you. But I’d most definitely recommend cleaning the plants while they’re fresh. Once they’re dried, all of the leaves look kind of awful, and the bad stuff will blend right in.
And unless you have hours and hours to devote to cleaning your plants, you’ve got to be okay with not getting 100% of the bad stuff. But the way I see it, I know that my plants are clean, where they were grown, and aren’t sprayed with any nasty chemicals, so I’m already more comfortable with using them over the store-bought variety.
Thanks to the fact that this particular day was about a bazillion degrees, the oregano was crunchy-dried in a matter of hours. I flipped the cuttings over a few times throughout the course of the day just to make sure everything dried evenly, and by sunset, I brought the plants inside.
I should mention that there are many other ways to dry herbs. For my larger plants like basil, I typically cut the plants and hang them upside-down to dry for several weeks in a cool dark place. Some people like to do all of the leaf removal and dry the herbs in the oven for several hours on a low temp. I’m sure you could even use a dehydrator, but I don’t own one so I have nothing to offer there. I just prefer the easiest / old-schooliest method and let the drying happen on its own.
The next part of the process was removing the dried leaves from the stems – which I didn’t get to until a few days later, but the plants were kept cool and dry, so no worries. Just simply remove the leaves from the dried stems. I like to take a bit of time here and make sure not to let any woody stems into the mix, and sometimes even snip off a bit of the leave stem if it comes from a larger leaf. (After all, no one really likes to pick sticks out of their mouthful of spaghetti sauce.)
Final step is a quick whirl around the food processor and that’s about it. Be sure to store your dried herbs in a clean and very dry container. (No one likes moldy herbs either.) The dried herbs last for months, and even make nice little gifts.
I wanted also to show the difference between store-bought and freshly dried herbs. While I might not know everything about the many varieties of oregano-plants grown for either version, I’m sticking with my gut and preferring my nice GREENER version of oregano versus the brown dried up bits from the store.