If you are growing your own herbs the time that you pick them will determine their quality.
2The Early Bird Gets the Worm… Or the Spice.
The best time to pick your herbs is in the morning. If it’s a humid day, wait until all the dew has gone away, but before the heat of the sun hits them. At this time the oils in the herbs are at their maximum. In addition, try not to pick them if it is raining. It should be cool (before the sun hits them), and the herbs should be dry.
3When they smell good in the garden, it’s not good to pick them.
In the heat of the day, when you smell all those delightful fragrances emanating from your herb garden… that’s the smell of the oils in the herbs evaporating into the air. Not a good time to pick them.
One of my teachers taught me that herbs are best picked just before they begin to flower. From that point forward the flowers tend to drain some of the flavor from the herbs.
Never pick more than 10 percent of the plants total mass. In that way it gives the plant time to regrow, and the flavors of the herb are not taken up in reestablishing itself.
6The Drying Process
There are several ways to dry herbs…some more successful than others.
7You could use a dehydrator; however, most of these units utilize heat and air to dry out the food or, in this case, the herbs. While this method will work, due to the heat, you will lose some of the plants oils to evaporation.
The same is true if you use your oven. The higher temperatures will cause some of the oils to evaporate.
8The best way is one of the oldest ways: Tie them into a bundle and hang them in a warm (not hot), place. Some people will hang them in the kitchen; they may look pretty, but they might take on some of odors of items you’re cooking.
Choose and out-of-the-way place, out of direct sunlight.
After a few days they should be dry enough to remove from the stems. Store in tightly stoppered containers in a cool, dry place.
9Dry Versus Fresh
Remember that dry spices are more concentrated than their fresh counterparts. If a recipe calls for fresh, and you are using dried herbs, use about 1/3 of what the recipe calls for.
Some of the more fragile herbs, such as: dill or tarragon can be easily frozen. Just chop them up into measurable quantities, put them into little baggies, and stick them in the freezer.
This is an interesting way to preserve herbs… place a layer of salt at the bottom of a jar, and then place a layer of herbs, then add another layer of salt… repeat until you fill the jar. Not only will the salt extract the moisture from the herbs, but you now have seasoned salt.
12Chef’s Tip: When doing the research for this topic, I came across an interesting time-saver. Create a bunch of bouquet garnis’ with your favorite herbs, and place them into the freezer. When you need one to flavor a soup or stew, pull one out and drop it in… Easy Peasy.