By drying fresh herbs you can enjoy your produce all through winter. You'll create the best pizza thanks to a bit of ingenuity and planning.
I'm going to share with you the herb drying methods that I used while working as a herbalist. These methods are used to preserve medicinal herbs and to lock in the constituents that have healing properties. It so happens that some of these constituents also give culinary herbs their taste and aroma.
Planning for harvesting and drying herbs starts with deciding when and how to collect the plant. Keep in mind that plants are loaded with nutrients and flavour just before they're about to flower. Photosynthesis is most active at this time. Their aim in life is to reproduce so therefore they're pushing all available energy towards those flowers. How cruel then to sharpen our scissors and ruthlessly harvest.
Preparing for herb drying involves some trimming and quality control. Only gather the top one third of the plant. Harvest in dry weather and don't wash the plant. Strip leaves from the stem and spread them over a sheet of paper or over a herb drying rack. Older leaves and any that have been damaged or attacked by insects should be removed. Thicker leaves should not touch each other, or they'll turn black. The stems are to be discarded prior to drying.
Tip: A window insect screen can be used as a herb drying rack, or you can probably think of some way of rigging up curtain fabric or mosquito netting to achieve a flat horizontal surface.
Drying, waiting...Place the herbs in a cool, dust free and dry spot away from sunlight. Some air circulation will help to carry moisture away. Turn the leaves or give them a shake every day. Drying fresh herbs could take up to four weeks. Test if the herb leaves are adequately dry by squeezing a pinch between your fingers. When the leaves crumble with a crackling sound they're done.
Oven drying can be done if you can achieve a temperature that is just under 40 degrees C. Perhaps with the door ajar...test with a thermometer. Spread the leaves on a regular oven tray and watch it carefully.
A food dryer is useful especially when air humidity is high and it's difficult to achieve 'crackling dry'. Choose a model which have a temperature setting for herbs. The temperature should be no higher than 40 degrees C, which is a bit lower than the heat used in food dehydration.
Before storing herbs some larger leaves, such as those of drying basil or drying mint, can be reduced to the size of regular tea leaves.
Store in a way that minimises the risk of spoilage. Factors that make your herbs loose their flavour are:
We can eliminate all of the above by putting the herbs in a brown glass container with a tight fitting lid, and store it in a cool place. The fridge or freezer is not a suitable place for your dried herbs as condensation will appear the moment they're brought out into room temperature.
Label with the month and year, and use within about two years.