Growing Herbs Isn’t Hard
Find yourself constantly buying dried spices and herbs? Do you have some on your shelf for years and still not using them? I used to because I purchased the largest jar/bottle I could afford and then used it for only 1 or 2 recipes.
Spices and herbs are extremely expensive, especially if you buy organic. I know I can’t afford to waste money on these little bits of taste just to let their taste and benefits evaporate in my cupboard. There is an alternative
Grow your own! It is easier than you think. All my herbs were first grown in pots I put in my windowsill, then I gradually used larger pots and put them on my sunny deck. I now have my pots lining my yard and in my square foot garden.
I started slowly to see if I could do it, while working full time outside the home, running my own internet business from home and keeping the household running. I am lucky to have a husband who indulges me and helps with housework and weeding!
I went to a local garden center and found organic seeds to plant in some and to a nursery to get some organic 3″ pots already planted. Of course I started the seeds inside in March and they were thriving before I could put the other plants in the ground here in Wisconsin.
I did do several searches on using fresh herbs and to my surprise, it is almost like using dried herbs. I just put them in later in the cooking to keep their essence and taste, as they don’t have to rehydrate in any broth like dried herbs.
I started with oregano, flat leaf Italian parsley, and thyme because I was used to using these herbs. Once they started growing I quickly researched when the best time was to harvest
- Oregano – Harvest in the morning and leaves are dry. Cut the stems from the plant (only what you will use if you need fresh, or all if you are drying or freezing). Clean and drain in colander, dry on paper towels.
- Flat Leaf Italian Parsley – This herb will continue to grow new leaves if you cut off the flower stalk as soon as it grows. For fresh parsley, cut them from the bottom of the plant. Always cut leaves from the outside to get more new leaves. If you want to dry your parsley, you can wait until fall and cut down the plant, clean off the leaves, dry on paper towels and put in dehydrator. If in a pot, you can bring the pot indoors by a sunny window to continue harvesting all winter.
- Thyme – should be harvested before they bloom (you will see the buds but not the flower). Cut the stems just below the “node” on the stem. This will encourage the plant to continue to bud for future harvests. Always harvest in the morning
For all of these herbs, I just rinse in warm water in a colander and lightly clean to eliminate any unseen pests or dirt. Then I put them in single layers on a couple pieces of paper towels and press with another paper towel to get out as much moisture.
I put them in my dehydrator (leaves only) in single layers and dry at 125° (if humid) or 95° if dry in the house. I have heard it only takes 1-4 hours, but sometimes thicker items like chives can take up to 16 hours. Check the instructions with your dehydrator. If they appear to be flexible, increase drying times. I love my Presto Dehydrator and have had it for 8 years and it still works great! There are those that are more expensive, but why go there if this meets your needs? It has a temperature setting for vegetables, fruits and meat. It also comes with a special tray to make stretchable taffy-like candy. I put this on the bottom tray when I am making jerky. It is easy to clean as the fan and motor are on the bottom and everything else goes into the dishwasher.
What is nice about most herbs, you can just gather them at the base of the stems in a bunch and tie them with string. Hang someplace that is cool and dry (I put mine in my basement, but a kitchen closet also works if you live in an apartment or condo). Don’t hang in any clothes closets!
Some herbs like oregano, mint and basil can be easily dried in paper bags. I have used those brown lunch bags. Punch holes in the sides (just a few on each side) and tie herbs in small bunches. Put the paper bag over the leaves and secure with rubber band or large twist tie. Hang for 3 weeks and check. When dry the seeds and leaves will fall into the bag!
I put my dried herbs into my small Nutrisystem jar to grind up, but you can do this with any food processor or by hand. I put them into OLD, cleaned spice jars from when I used to purchase them from the store. Glass containers are the best as the plastic will eventually deteriorate and may leach into the herbs.