Completing your zero waste vegan shopping hall in the bulk section of the store is fun... but the joys of making your own teas and spices to add beautiful flavor to your diet is where it's at!
Harvest your herbs. For the fullest flavor, harvest herbs before they flower. If you have been harvesting most of the season, your plants most likely haven't had a chance to flower yet. By late summer, even herbs that have not flowered will start to decline as the weather cools. For this reason, late summer is the best time to harvest your herbs.
Cut the branches in mid-morning. Let the morning dew dry from the leaves, but pick before the plants are wilting in the afternoon sun.
Don't cut the entire plant, unless you plan on replacing it. Never remove more than about 1/3 of a plants branches at one time.Cut healthy branches from your herb plants.
Remove any dry or diseased leaves. Yellowed leaves and leaves spotted by disease are not worth drying. Their flavor has already been diminished by the stress of the season. Shake gently to remove any insects. There are always hitchhikers and since you won't be thoroughly washing the stems, you want to get rid of as many as you can now. If you've picked your herbs while the plants are dry, you should be able to simply shake off any excess soil. But if necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Hang or lay them out where they will get plenty of air circulation, so they can dry out quickly. Wet herbs will mold and rot.
Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the stem. You can use these leaves fresh or dry them separately. Bundle 4 - 6 stems together and tie as a bunch. Use biodegradable string such as cotton or hemp. Ensure constant air flow to avoid rotting.
Hang your herbs from the string to dry upside down in a warm, airy room. Check weekly until your herbs are dry and ready to store.
Store your dried herbs in airtight containers, such as small canning jars. Label and date all of your containers. Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them. Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold. Place containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor. Use about 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Happy tea & spice making!