Food was simple on the farm, plain flavours without a lot of seasonings beyond the basics like salt and pepper or an onion and maybe some garlic. So I was in my late teens when I discovered culinary herbs on my own. At that time there wasn’t much in the way of reference materials as there is now, so I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about what was commonly available in culinary herbs, which eventually touched on some medicinal benefits of herbs and as the years went by I naturally gravitated to expanding my knowledge in both areas when opportunities arose.
As a result, I became quite proficient at growing herbs, rosemary was my nemesis for a long time but eventually I figured out what it liked and have since proudly grown immense trees/shrubs of rosemary. I even grew for gourmet kitchens for many years. I had one chef challenge me by saying I couldn’t possibly grow enough basil to overwhelm him and of course I couldn’t, because even though I brought it to him by the multiple garbage bags full, he would just as quickly make pesto out of it and sell it as fast as I could grow and he could make it!
Every garden I have ever installed or worked in has had a herb section as part of it. My own herb garden has always supplied me with sufficient dried herbs, seed and flowers to more than satisfy our own needs along with having lots to give as gifts to folks around me. One of the greatest benefits to my mind, is I can grow and preserve varieties that you wouldn’t normally get to have in abundance or even available to purchase from a store such as, a couple of my favourites, Lemon Thyme (try it sprinkled on a grilling steak), Siam Queen Basil (to sweeten a roast leg of lamb) or Chocolate Mint (for a lovely tea).
Gathering herbs is very simple. For drying, pick them around mid morning when any dew has evaporated and wait til the herbs are at their peek of growth, preferably before they go to flower. With scissors cut them where the leaves are thickest, leaving the woodier bits with fewer leaves behind. Don’t cut them all though, grow enough to leave some to mature! With Bay, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Lemon Verbena, Parsley, Summer Savory, Marjoram, Tarragons, Basil, Mints, Lemon Balm, usually if you cut them just above a growth node they will grow back again, so you can later collect their flowers or seeds if you want. Shake the leaves prior to placing them in the bag, to dislodge any possible insects that might be hanging about.
I have always used a brown paper bag such as they provide in grocery stores, loosely filled with a herb to dry my herbs in. I have never found it necessary to use a dehydrator or microwave or any other appliance to to do the job. Lightly fold the top of the bag closed, leave lots of room for air to circulate around the herbs in the bag and give it a couple of weeks sitting in a cool, dry place. I then check on them to see how they are progressing and maybe shake them up a bit or strip the leaves off the heavier stems and leave them sit for a little longer if necessary, especially the herbs with a higher moisture content such as Basil and Mint. Otherwise, if they crumble easily when I crush them in my hand, I then dispose of any discoloured leaves and any thick stems I may have missed before and put the dried leaves in mason/canning jars with appropriate labels. Simple as that! Fresh. flavourful, potent and colourful, dried herbs to use all winter long.
Keep containers out of the sunlight, a dark kitchen cupboard usually works well. Don’t forget dried herbs are more potent than fresh because the oils are more concentrated, usually 1 tsp dried is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of fresh. If they start to loose their colour then they are also loosing flavour. Normally, I keep the leaves whole and only crush them when I am ready to use them but recently I reduced the amount of jars I had by using a blender to crush the herbs allowing me to put more into a jar and taking up less, much needed, cupboard space and it worked well.
Chives tend to loose their flavour once dried so freezing them in small amounts seems to work best. Although, I find Garlic chives and French Tarragon are still much better fresh.
Herb flowers need to be harvested as soon as they open or within a day or two and they can also be dried in a paper bag and stored in jars same as above.
Collecting herb seeds is addressed in my post about “Seed Collecting” here at https://messyshepherdess.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/seed-collecting/