And make your own homemade herb gifts!
Sage, parsley, tarragon, thyme, oregano….
You can so, so easily dry herbs that you grow in your backyard garden or in pots on your doorstep. Herbs are a tough plant; most of them evolved in a setting where the weather and the soil are challenging, so they are relatively easy to grow. And they grow big, really fast, so you have an armful – enough to last you ten years or more – in a matter of just a few months. Basil is the exception; it is rather delicate; it needs days and nights above 50 degrees in order to survive.
PLAN & ASSEMBLE
You want to start planning your herb garden in the early spring. Think about what herbs you want to grow for using fresh and for storing dried, and decide where to plant them. Plants need sunlight, so find a garden spot that is shaded as little as possible; or find a sunny window or doorway to put your pots. At this time you can assemble the parts you will need for your herbs. Weed and till your garden spot. Or purchase pots and fill with soil; place them on plates or trays to protect your floors; place the pots where they will be spending their time.You are doing this in advance so that when the first sunny spring-like day arrives, all you will need to do is go down to the garden store and bring home your plants.
PLANT & WATER
At last when spring arrives, it is time to plant your herbs. Go to the nursery and choose small pots of the herbs you want to grow. Be sure to get some organic fertilizer and add to each pot, following package instructions. Remove the plants from their little plastic pots. Dig a small hole, pour plenty of water in the hole, then place the plant in it; fill and press the dirt down around the little start. Give it more water until the soil is wet. If you are potting your herbs, be sure that you have a hole in the bottom of the pot so water will drain.
Most herbs evolved in an arid country, so you do not need to keep the soil moist. But, if you are growing them in pots, do not forget about them! Be sure to give them water. A good rule of thumb is to allow the soil to almost dry out, then give them a good watering. Pots generally dry out faster than garden soil so be sure to keep an eye on them.
I cut bunches of the herbs with scissors when it looks like there are plenty of greens to spare. Wash the leaves only if necessary. If you live where the summers are very hot, like Louisiana, Kentucky or Arizona, all you need to do to dry your herbs is to lay them out on a sheet of newspaper in a dry, dark place for a few days. If you live somewhere that does not get very hot, like western Oregon, you can tie them up in bundles with twine and hang them in a dry, dark place – this may take weeks – or use the oven: My oven goes to 100, so that is where I set it. I have tried 110 and 120 for herbs, and it is too hot; they turn brown; you want them to keep their green color in order to have maximum flavor. If your oven doesn’t go down to 100, then turn the oven off after it reaches its lowest setting; put the tray of herbs in the oven and keep for 24 hours with the door closed. Bring the herbs out and check; if the leaves are still soft, repeat again, leaving in the oven again for 24 hours.
Once the leaves are crumbly they are ready to package.
Bring the leaves out of the oven or drying place. Lay them on several layers of opened-up newspaper. Starting at one end, roll up the newspaper, pressing on it as you go. You will be crushing the herb leaves. If you have a very large amount, put them in a large doubled paper bag, then crush the bag with your hands. You will be crushing the herb leaves inside the bag by doing this. Pull out the branches and stems until all you have are the herb leaves. For sage, you can rub the leaves between your palms until it becomes almost a powder. This is called Rubbed Sage. Use a funnel to pour the leaves into jars or cellophane bags. Add labels, tags and ribbon to identify and embellish.