The best way of preserving herbs is in their dried forms. All that needs to be done is to expose seeds, flowers and leaves to warm, dry air. The herbs, when left in a well-ventilated area until complete moisture evaporation takes place, turns into dried herbs. However, they should not be dried placing in oven, dehydrator or sun, as the herbs lose color and flavor.
Methods of drying herbs “ The ideal time to harvest herbs for drying is when the flowers first bloom after the bud stage. The herbs should be gathered early in the morning after dew, to reduce wilting. The leaves should not be bruised. After harvesting, rinse herbs in cool water, and shake gently to remove excess moisture. Discard the imperfect, bruised or soiled stems and leaves.
Sturdy herbs such as parsley, thyme, sage, summer savory etc., can be easily tied into small bundles and air-dried. Though air-drying is easier, drying indoors helps in better flavour and color retention. Certain other herbs such as lemon balm, tarragon, basil, mint etc., have high moisture content and hence cannot be dried quickly. Such tender-leaf herbs can be hung inside paper bags with holes punched on sides for air-drying.
Another method for drying herbs, which is particularly beneficial for sage, bay leaf and mint, is to remove best leaves from the stem, lay them on a paper towel in such a way that the leaves do not touch each other. Cover them with another towel and another layer of leaves. Almost five layers could be dried at a time through this method. Dry them in a cool oven. The oven light in an electric range or the pilot light in a gas range would be sufficient for the heat requirement when left for over-night drying. Leaves dried in such a manner retain their color and dry flat. Drying is considered complete, when the herbs appear brittle and are easily crushed between the fingers.
Microwave ovens are the easiest way to dry herbs. Just heat them for two or three minutes on high. If they are not yet dry, the process can be repeated for another 30 seconds. Dried herbs are then stored in airtight containers in a cool, dry and dark place so as to preserve their fragrance and colors.
Usage – Dried herbs are basically more strong flavoured than fresh herbs. While adding a dried herb to a recipe, as a substitution for fresh herb, substitute 1/3 the amount of fresh herbs actually mentioned in the recipe. While adding dried herbs to the recipe, crush them between the palm and fingers of the hand, as it helps in faster release of the flavour.
Also, only a single strong-flavoured dried herb (such as sage, rosemary or winter savory) should be used in a recipe at a time. As for seasoning, a strong flavored seasoning should be combined with several mild flavored ones.