Drying of herbs and spices
Harvesting[edit | edit source]
At the peak time, when the compounds are in their highest concentration, the plant material is collected. This moment in time is different for each plant. Picking is done at days without rain or dew to prevent the formation of mold. Plants are preferably chosen which have had a good spot for growing, suitable for their requirements (this usually means a well-lit area).
Leaves and roots should be collected before noon, flowers should be collected in the morning.
Peel removal of roots[edit | edit source]
When certain roots (as garlic or ginger) are to be processed into pastes or powders, it may be necessary to soak the root in water for a night. This so that the peel of the root may release. After this process, the root may be chopped up and puréed immediately into a paste (no drying is necessary then). To make powder however, drying is still required before the root is ground.
Drying[edit | edit source]
Before drying, ensure that the herb or spice plant pieces are clean and thoroughly free of moisture. If not, you may be growing mildew rather than drying them. Any soil or grime left on herbs and spices prior to drying will remain there after drying and will be far harder to remove without destroying the dried plant material.
- For the above ground (or 'green') plant parts: on a hot, dark, dry and windy place. Avoid changing temperatures. Herbs can be placed on a barbecue grill or hung up. 
- Roots and bark (or 'brown') plant parts: on well-lit places. Again they may be can be placed on a grill or hung up. 
Culinary safe drying methods[edit | edit source]
- Hanging: Cut the herbs freshly or collect fresh spice pods/seeds. Tie a bunch of the herb or spice pods/seeds at one end. For stemmed herbs, tie at the stem ends, not the leaf tops. A rubber band is good, or use string, raffia, ribbon, or similar tying material. However, the advantage of using rubber band is that it will tighten around the bunch as it dries, while you may have to retie other tying material to prevent the plant material from falling onto the floor. Hang in a cool and dry place, where the air can freely circulate and dry the plant matter.
- Screen drying: Find or make a wire mesh screen inside a frame. At a pinch, a cake rack can be used, especially for larger leaves, stalks, pods and seeds. Arrange the herb or spice plant pieces across the wire mesh without layering. Place in a room temperature, dry spot and leave to dry naturally.
- Freezing: Some herbs can be successfully dried by freezing, while other herbs turn black and are ruined by this method of drying; for example, chives can be frozen but mint cannot be. However, you can make herb butter, herb oil or herbs in ice cubes that can be a workaround the usual spoiling of herbs by freezing. Place the herbal butter/oil/ice cube in the freezer instead of placing the herb in by itself.
- Pressing: Herbs can be pressed for use in decorative projects, much in the same way that flowers can be pressed.
- Microwaving: Herbs and spices can be dried using a microwave. However, this is somewhat of an experiment-and-see approach, depending on the herb or spice and the microwave and you may end up losing a lot if you don't do the trial and error testing first.
Note that air-dried herbs are more brittle than their fresh or oiled counterparts, and thus will easily turn to powder or are best mixed together in sachets, such as for bouquet garni.
Drying with silica gel[edit | edit source]
This must only be used when the herbs and spices are not to be used for food, ingestion or medicine. Silica gel is poisonous when ingested. This method is suitable only for craft, art and decorative purposes.
- Tip a layer of silica gel desiccant into a shoe box or on a large ceramic plate.
- Lay the herbs or spices over the layer of silica gel. Do not allow the different pieces to touch one another.
- Push the plant material into the gel using a small paintbrush, to ensure it's coated.
- Add another layer of silica gel over the top of the plant material.
- Put aside in a dry place. Ensure that neither children nor pets can get to it. Leave to dry for several days.
- Remove the dried herbs and spices. Shake the silica gel back into its storage package, as it can be reused many times.
- Use the dried herbs and spices for craft, art or display. Mark it clearly as "silica gel dried, not for consumption" if you're storing it for use later, so that you don't accidentally try to use it for culinary purposes.
Storage[edit | edit source]
The following methods are appropriate for storage; choose which one suits your needs best. In each case, it is recommended that a label be added with the plant's name (usually the Latin name is used), and the plant part(s), so that you remember what has been dried.
- In a dark pot: Make sure that the above (herbs) or below-ground (roots; both whole or grounded) plant parts are completely dry to prevent any infection from mold.
- In paper bags: This is even better, as the plant-parts are less prone to mold-formation.
- In opaque glass jars: Break up the herbs or grind the spices and transfer to small opaque glass spice jars. The jars must be airtight. Store away from light, in a cool place, such as inside a dark pantry.
- In oil or vinegar: Herb sprigs or spice plant pieces are added to oil or vinegar and the flavor infuses through the liquid. The herbs can be used or discarded, as appropriate. It is recommended that oils are stored in the refrigerator after herbs have been added, to prevent bacterial growth.
Provide good air flow, and a cool but dry environment for maintaining herbs during storage outside of a refrigerator.
Don't store herbs or spices for too long. The aim is to use them while their aroma, flavour, texture and benefits still exist. If the herbs or spices get damp, throw them out as they will only grow mildew.
Whole spices store longer than ground spices.
Both herbs and spices store for longer in cooler climate environments than in humid and/or tropical environments. If you live where the temperature is constantly warm, either refrigerate the herbs/spices or store in a cellar or other environment that isn't as humid as the rest of the house or building.
Warnings[edit | edit source]
- Do not dry herbs or spices in silica gel if they are to be eaten or used orally. Silica gel is poisonous when ingested. On the other hand, if the herbs and spices are only going to be used for decoration or display, then silica gel frying is perfectly fine. Just don't eat the results!