Whether medicinal herbs or culinary, it’s so much better to grow your own. While thinking about this article, I compiled a list of the reasons it’s better, and here’s what I came up with:
1) They are easy to grow! Whether you have many acres of fertile land or live in an apartment, herbs (both medicinal and culinary) require little in the way of care. In fact, both types (with some exceptions, like basil) thrive with little attention once established. Most need a good deal of sun during the day and consistent watering (this is more true for herbs grown in pots, but they don’t like to sit with wet feet, so remember not to overwater).
2) Fresh herbs available all year. Herbs can be grown in pots, inside or out, and can be brought in when the weather turns cold, and need only be placed near a sunny window to keep growing.
3) It’s much less expensive. Whether buying herbs ‘fresh’ in those little plastic containers that hang in the produce aisle or dry from the bulk aisle, it’s still less expensive to grow the herbs at home. And there’s no comparison to buying dry herbs that are bottled and found in the spice aisle!
4) They’re beautiful and smell wonderful! No explanation necessary.
So, now that we are growing our own herbs, what’s the best way to dry and store them?
For the most part, there are a few different ways to dry our herbs, depending on what we’re harvesting. For most herbs, we’re taking the aerial parts, and those can either be bunched together and hung up or spread out on screens. Both methods require that the herbs be placed out of the sun and somewhere dry and with good ventilation. They can also be dried in a dehydrator, which is my favorite method, because while hanging herbs look beautiful, they don’t typically dry as beautifully as the dehydrator method. In other words, I get much better quality and color when I dry my herbs in a dehydrator, and it also takes less time. Just cutting the aerial parts and bunching them to hang or spreading them out on your screens is all that’s needed to begin. The leaves can be removed from the stems much easier once dry.
For some herbs, more effort is needed. Comfrey leaves, for instance, are best dried by chopping or slicing thinly and drying. The reason for this is that there is a lot more moisture within the leaves. Those herbs with a high moisture content just do not dry well by just hanging them up whole.
For those herbs in which we’re using the roots, such as Marshmallow and Echinacea, after washing thoroughly to remove all dirt and debri, the roots are also cut thinly and dried on screens (for me, again, the dehydrator works best). Not only would they take forever to dry if not cut up first, the roots would be almost impossible to cut after completely dry! A very cool local herbalist I know, Jim McDonald, told a story about once actually breaking a knife trying to cut through dried Solomon’s Seal root.
One your herbs are completely dry, they can then be stored in clean, dry glass jars. (It’s extremely important that the jars are thoroughly dry and have tight fitting lids.) Keep your jars in a cool, dark place and you’ve got herbs to use for meals or medicines all year.