Preparing Dried Herbs

 Preparing Herbs

Once I started growing and preserving my own herbs from my garden, the art of cooking took on a whole new meaning for me. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and experimenting with food, but before I had my own garden, like most people, I just bought all my food, spices & herbs at the grocery store and didn’t give it a second thought where it came from or how it was grown, where it was grown, or even how far it had to come to get to the grocery store.  As Oprah always used to say, “when you know better, you do better”, and since I’ve been learning about backyard farming and growing my own food organically, I am definitely cooking better and eating better.

Experimenting with different herbs is a culinary adventure. Anybody can just throw the main ingredients together for a recipe, but it’s so satisfying and fun to create something new or enhance a recipe you already have by adding some additional herbs from your garden.  Of course the wrong combinations of herbs or too much of a certain herb can make a dish less appetizing as well, so proceed with caution when trying new herbs.  It never hurts to follow an herb chart that tells you which herbs  go best with certain foods. Check out the two links below for good herb & food pairing charts.

Below are the general steps I take when I preserve some of my herbs after they have been dried by hanging or with a food dehydrator.

Step One:
After my herbs are dried, I strip the leaves from the stems and place them in a bowl. For me it works best with dried herbs to strip them on a wide table top because it’s easier to contain the flying leaves and pick out the parts I don’t want.   Dill doesn’t need stripped like the leafy varieties, especially if you dry it in a dehydrator.  When it is dried, it crumbles easily. Chives also dry best in a dehydrator, and I find it very easy to chop them up fine in a blender or food processor.  After the leafy herbs are stripped from the stems I decide if I want to keep them whole, or crush them.

Step Two:
I’ve decided after doing herbs for a few years that I prefer to keep the leaves whole in larger containers and only crush them as I need them.  I’ll keep the leaves in larger plastic containers and then only crush enough to halfway fill up a smaller spice bottle that I then keep in my spice cupboard.   I’ve found that the blender and food processor works great if you want the herbs crushed fine.  Otherwise, a mortar also works well for crushing.  Some herbs don’t need crushed fine.  Oregano, Marjoram and Thyme are fine not crushed fine.  It’s really a personal choice.  Some people might not like the way the herbs feel in their mouth if they’re not crushed finely enought, but I don’t feel that detracts at all from a dish. I like the color and texture the herbs add to my dishes.

Step Three:
Any smaller glass container works for herbs as long as it is air tight.   I reuse the old spice bottles I save from my store bought spices.  The Simply Organic spice bottles are great because the labels come off easily and they’re just the right size for me. I think glass is the best choice for storing almost anything.  You never know for sure about the toxicity of plastic, or the odor it might emit.  Tin might be okay, but if you wash it out it might get rusty.

Step Four:
Storing spices in a proper environment is essential for preserving their freshness and flavor.

I keep the refill herbs and other herbs I don’t use so often in a cool dark place.    The ones I use on a daily and weekly basis I have in my cupboard near my stove.  Never, ever store them above the stove where the overhead light is shining  on them and they are exposed to heat every time you cook.  There are so many pretty spice racks out there that are meant to sit on the counter, but it really isn’t the best way to store them if you want to keep them fresher, and retain their color.  I keep many of my spices on a little lazy Susan in my cupboard so I can turn it to find my herbs and spices without having to search for them every time.

Step Five:
How long should herbs be stored?  Well, I have been harvesting my herbs every year and if there are any left over from the previous year I throw them into my compost.  If herbs are kept longer than a year their flavor is going to be greatly compromised.  The same applies to spices.  Like most people, I’m guilty of keeping my spices too long.  I still have some spices in my cupboard that are well over two years old like cayenne pepper, paprika, poultry seasoning, ground sage, and a few others. They seem to still have retained good enough flavor, but I should probably toss those and get some new bottles soon.

I hope this post does a good job of sharing some helpful, basic instruction on how to prepare herbs and store them.

Here are two links I found on the internet with really good Herb & Food Pairing charts:

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