it is getting to be that time of year when the garden will slowly start fading away. even if living in socal gives us year round gardens, the summer garden is the most exciting for me! i am sad to see her go soon, she gave me such smiles and warmth on a daily basis. i love watering her soil and discovering the treasured buds her plants would give life to.
i attempted a winter garden last year, but somehow forgot to tend to her. i have started research on what to grow this fall, but if i book it out of LA soon, i won’t have the ability to garden. i will have to forfeit until next summer. that is one of the many beauties of southern california, the lack of harsh winters and distinct seasonal changes, allowing for year round gardens. it can still get pretty chilly and rainy here, and i have gotten use to the mediterranean climate. i keep thinking about the winter i might be about to embark on, and wonder if i will frolic in the snow, or have a minor breakdown? i have always been nostalgic for winter ( i grew up in northern indiana where there is plenty of it) and believe the seasons have a great purpose and lesson for rebirth. i will have to let go of her until next year when i can give her life again. drying the herbs might just be a way of holding on to the luxury of being able to grow such wonderful specimens…and not letting her bountiful beauty go to waste.
this year i am growing two kinds of basil, oregano, two types of thyme, mint, rose geranium, and parsley. a bay tree already grows tall in the yard sharing many, many leaves for use. my dad took home a bag full on his last visit. everyone might just be getting jars of bay leaves for christmas this year!
harvest your herbs before they flower. this will need to be done throughout any growing period. once annual herbs flower, they have gone to seed and will produce no more leaves. cutting back allows you to grow more! lots more! cut back basil to above bottom two sets of leaves. thyme, at about 1/2 to 1/3. you can use what you cut back to cook with or this is when you start drying or freezing.
smaller leaves, like thyme, oregano, and even the bay leaves can be dried on baskets or even screens(window screens, perhaps purchased from the thrift store?). if you need to wash off dirt, do so and pat dry before spreading them out on the basket/screen. store out of sunlight with good air circulation until dry, possibly up to 7 days.
some leaves with a lot of moisture content, like basil, mint, and tarragon, can not be laid on top of each other to dry (sometimes oregano too, but mine worked out fine. if you live in a humid environment i would try this method for any tender herb) instead, you can make a bundle of stems (3-5) tied together with gardeners string to hang upside down.
if the leaves are not quite dry, like sage, you can pop them in the oven at the lowest possible temp for 5 minutes. you do not want to store any herbs in a jar with moisture, as this will cause mold. if you have a dehydrator, you can also use this. check out the website at the end of the post for more info on using the dehydrator.
to test if the herbs are dry and ready for storage…check the crumble and the crackle. if the leaves have turned brown they are not good for culinary purpose. you can find other purposes for these brown herbs on the web.
store the leaves whole, away from light and heat. crumble at time of use to release the essential oils, giving a more intense flavor.
this is a great website for gardening tips!