Monday, May 11, 2015

Using the Herbs in Your Garden by Judy Dunning

Drying Herbs

Now that you have had a few months growing time it’s time to think about drying some of your herbs.  If you prefer working with dried plants, there are many ways to dry the herbs you’ve picked. You’ll see fairly consistent results if you lay your herbs flat on a framed screen in a warm, dry place, ensuring that air will circulate to all sides of the plant. So if you have a room with a ceiling fan or good cross-ventilation that would be the place.  Avoid drying herbs in direct sun, as this will affect the color and flavor of the plant and your finished product.  Some people swear by using a food dehydrator on a very low setting (while this is certainly the quickest method, it’s not exactly the most natural or energy efficient). 

If you want to use a dehydrator it is best to have one designed for herbs as they are usually bigger.   Others rely on nothing fancier than some twine and a well-placed nail from which to hang the bundled herb – a technique closest to the historical method of hanging bundles from the rafters. This may be the historical way to do it but keep in mind they didn’t have paper bags in those days.  I think you will have spiders and dust for your efforts.  My favorite method is if the herb has a high moisture content such as basil, mints, calendula, and lemon balm then the method of laying them on screens is very good but if they are heartier plants, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, they will dry just fine by putting them in paper bags.  With the paper bag method you need to shake up the bags once in a while so that everything dries evenly. The drying time depends on the moisture content of the plant and can take anywhere from a couple of days to two weeks. Also remember to write on the bag what’s in it.  You may think you will recognize the contents by smell but sometimes drying changes the smell. 

Trading Herbs

If you have no garden to call your own, try approaching a neighbor about arranging a barter. Gardeners often have more plants than they know what to do with. In exchange for providing you with their surplus herbs, you might offer to give them half of whatever you make. If they don’t have a particular herb you want to concoct something out of, you could propose a similar deal for the next season: they provide the garden space and the watering, you buy and plant the seeds, and you both divvy up the results. Now let's make something! 

Spring Tonic (Stinging Nettle Infusion)

1 ounce dried stinging nettle leaves
1 quart water (boiled)
1 quart size glass jar

Place dried nettle into a glass container that will withstand boiling water. Pour boiling water over the nettle leaves and infuse, covered for 4-10 hours or overnight. Strain into a quart sized jar and store in the refrigerator. The infusion will only keep for a couple of days. An infusion of nettle is more concentrated than a tea. You can drink 2 – 3 cups of the infusion each day for a week. After that, drink as you please. The infusion is dark green with an earthy, grassy taste. Drink it over ice for optimum flavor. If you prefer, use local honey to sweeten it. Some folks add salt or a bit of lemon to their drink which gives it a different flavor. You can also re-heat your infusion and drink it warm.

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