Food & Garden: Drying herbs for winter

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By Andrew Padula, Contributing Columnist and owner of Greer-based Padula's Plants:

Now that the cooler weather is arriving, drying your herbs is something that can help preserve them for winter.

• Less humid air during the Fall can make it much easier for your herbs to dry outdoors without the risk of the leaves forming mold on them or possibly the herbs taking to long to dry and loosing some of their distinct characteristics/oils. With humidity levels under 50 percent, herb leaves usually take about 1 week to dry to the point of safe storage, but depending on their thickness it could take two weeks.

• Choose a shady location outdoors that gets plenty of air flow through it. Using nylons or a brown paper bag will help keep insects off of the herbs if that is an issue. The faster the herbs dry without help of the suns direct rays, the higher oil content the herbs will have once they are dry. If possible, cut and hang long branches of the herb upside down to dry. This will help ensure that all of the benefits of the herbs make their way down into the leaves as the plant is drying.

• When it comes time for drying herb seeds for later use, the drying time usually takes a little bit longer. It is a good idea dry herb seeds that will be used as seasoning or medicine for at least two weeks in the dry fresh air before they are sealed up for later use. The larger the seed is the longer it should dry.

Try to avoid drying different types of herbs together. Although it is fun to make your own herbal blends, drying different sized leaves together with different thicknesses can cause one kind of herb to completely dry, while the other is still drying. So if you are making your own herbal blends, do so after each different herb is completely dry.

Keep the herb leaves whole once they are dry, as opposed to crushed up. Although you will be able to fit more of the herb into a container when the herb leaves are crushed up. Crushing the dry leaves releases more of the herbs essential oils, which many times is what you are trying to preserve in the leaves. So by keeping the dry leaves whole, you are increasing the amount of essential oils available for you to use through the Winter. And this means that will not have to use as much of the herb to get the desired effects/seasoning.

Dark colored glass containers are best for storing dried herbs. Many herbs are affected by light in a negative way once they are dry. Daylight will cause many kinds of dry herbs to breakdown and loose their potency faster. Also try to avoid storing your dried herbs in plastic containers, this can give an off taste to your dried herbs.

Learn more about Andrew Padula and Padula's Plants here or find them on Facebook here.

(Photo attribution.)