Oven Drying Herbs
This year I'm trying to be a little more focused on herb harvesting and preserving. Last season I just mowed a bunch of each kind down before frost and hung them to dry on the porch. And there they stayed for the winter. It's not at all convenient to go out into the freezing cold when you run out of herbs, and being exposed to extreme temperatures hasn't exactly helped to preserve their flavor.
I have read that herbs are at their best flavor just before they flower, so I'm keeping an eye on them this year to harvest them at their peak. So far, so good: horehound, comfrey, and sage were all ready to cut this past weekend.
Sage is easy to preserve because it's pretty tough — just hang and let dry. But horehound and comfrey have very thick, hairy leaves that take a long time to dry on their own. I decided to try a new (to me) technique: oven drying.
According to the National Center for Food Preservation, the secret weapon in oven drying is a roll of paper towels. To get set up, you put a paper towel on a cookie sheet, and then spread individual leaves on the sheet so they aren't touching. It's a little time consuming to strip each leaf from the stem, but it's a pleasant-smelling task in the end.
That's one layer, but you keep adding paper towel and herbs layers until you're done. I ended up with five layers of horehound (that's the herb above) on one tray and three layers of comfrey on another.
Into the oven goes the tray, and according to the website instructions, the only heat required is the oven light. I was skeptical of this, so gave it a little boost of actual heat on the lowest setting before putting the trays in. Once the trays went in, I cut the heat but left the light on, and kept the herbs in over night and through the next work day.
After just under a full day, the horehound was dry. I like that this method preserved the color and shape of each leaf. The lower layers needed a little extra time, but were done in another couple hours. And I must admit, I stand corrected about the amount of heat that the oven light throws — that was really quite effective, and the oven was still warm when I opened it to check on the herbs the next day.
So at the end of the day, I have a nice new jar of horehound and of comfrey, all ready to seal and be set aside for the coming year. This is much more neatly done than the browned hanging herbs from last year, and I am excited to continue using this method to stay on top of our herb harvest this year. I think I'll end up taking down the sage I hung to dry and get it in the oven this weekend, since these results were so excellent.