The cool nights of fall are creeping into our weather reports sooner than we expected. Gardens are beginning to dry up and look a bit scruffy. Now is the time to gather some of the bounty of our fading summer and preserve it for winter use. One easy method is to follow our ancestors’ example and dry plants naturally. Not only is the process painless, it’s inexpensive as well.
Many plants, such as herbs, can simply be gathered together and hung upside down on a line. Yes, this is a simple process; however, there are a few tips to make the procedure more successful. To begin with, cut the herbs from the mother plant early in the morning after the dew has dried from the leaves and before the sun gets too hot. Harvest herbs that have not reached the flowering stage for the best quality.
Once harvested, clean your stems up to about an inch from the bottom, discard any yellowing leaves, and, if you feel the need, rinse any dirt from the leaves. If you do the rinsing step, be sure to dry the leaves thoroughly before bundling. Bundling means to gather several stems together and secure with a rubber band. From here hang them upside down from a line. Some suggest putting them stem-side-up in a paper bag to dry. Another point of view states drying them inside as opposed to outside is more efficient due to the fact there is less moisture in the air.
Some herbs that are easier to naturally dry because they have less moisture in the plant include bay, dill, oregano, rosemary and thyme. Other more moisture-laden herbs – like mint and basil – are better preserved using some 21st Century love like a freezer or a dehydrator. They can be naturally dried; it just takes longer.
The process for drying flowers is much the same as for herbs. Again, choosing flowers that are not so dense works better than those that hold lots of moisture. A few that seem to do well with the natural drying process include cornflower, hydrangea, larkspur, lavender, roses, starflower and yarrow. It seems drying them in a darkened room works best for maintaining the color. The more light they are exposed to in the drying process the less the color will be maintained. Spacing them out so there is lots of air circulation will garner the best results.
There are other methods of drying for both herbs and flowers, such as using silicone or the microwave. Flowers that are dried in the microwave using a silicone solution tend to do well. Herbs do not use the silicone process but are simply layered on paper towels and zapped for three or four minutes. Purists will maintain it’s not always best method in that it changes the herb slightly, and it’s not to their liking.
Once dried, flowers and herbs are safe from mold and bacteria and are safe to use and will maintain their quality for about six months or so. There are lots of websites to guide a person through this natural process, and many are devoted to not only flowers and herbs but also to fresh produce and meats. This might be a process you find interesting, so read up on it and see if it suits your purposes.