If you love to cook then you’re no doubt familiar with the different varieties of herbs. If you’re also a gardener, why not grow and dry your own herbs to help make delicious meals? This project will show you how.
Step 1: Choose Herbs for Your Garden
Decide which herbs you want to grow, keeping in mind where you will be growing them. If you’re growing them outside, you must take your climate into consideration. Some herbs grow better in specific regions; however, most will thrive during the normal gardening season.
Many gardeners opt for an indoor herb garden in the kitchen for easy access when cooking and for the natural touch it adds to the space. Remember that not all herbs are ideal for growing indoors. Some of the best herbs to grow indoors are thyme, lavender, basil, parsley and oregano. Other good choices are chives, mint, dill, rosemary, sage and garlic chives. Just keep your herbs away from cooking areas, or if you have a small kitchen, put them elsewhere. The fluctuations in humidity and heat may be taxing on the plants.
Most herbs prefer a location that receives full sun for at least four hours per day. Try the sill of a southern or western exposure window for the best sunlight.
If you don’t have a place in your home that gets enough light or warmth for an indoor garden, you can grow your herbs under a fluorescent light or sun lamp. Be sure to only use the lamp for six hours a day.
Step 2: Plant Your Herb Garden
Now it’s time to plant your herbs. You can grow herbs by starting from seeds, planting store-bought herbs or using stem cuttings from plants.
For those who like to get their hands dirty, try starting herbs from seed. It's the least expensive way to grow an herb garden, but it takes some babysitting. Follow the directions on the packets and add the seeds to the depth specified by the manufacturer.
When purchasing seeds for an indoor herb garden, make sure you get the "compact" varieties. Not only are the regular varieties difficult to grow indoors, but they're also meant for growing in large spaces.
Stem cuttings are another easy method for growing herbs. Before the growing season ends, start your herb garden with some cuttings from your plants or use cut herbs available from a grocery store.
When using stem cuttings, cut about 6” of a stem at the base of the plant. Once the branch is cut, strip the foliage off the bottom to discourage rot. A root should develop anywhere a leaf or stem has grown. Place the cutting in a small jar of water so it can sprout roots. Keep in mind that these cuttings need a sunny location, and the water should be changed out every day. Once the cutting has sprouted roots, you can plant it.
Planting an Outdoor Herb Garden
If you’re planting herbs in an outdoor garden, choose a spot that is shielded from the wind, near your house or next to another building or structure. This will help provide a sheltered area in which to grow your plants. Remember though not to pick a spot that is too shady, as the plants do require plenty of sunlight. Use a tiller or a level-head rake to loosen the topsoil in the area in which you’ll be planting. If you’re working with whole plants or cuttings, then use a garden trowel to dig out the amount of soil needed to plant. After the seeds or plants are in the soil, water the area using a garden hose.
Planting an Indoor Herb Garden
If you’re planting an indoor herb garden, use small pots—around 6" in diameter. Terra cotta or heavy clay pots work best, but any pot that provides good drainage will do. Fill each pot with potting soil and add the seeds or plants. Mist the soil with water and a spray bottle, keeping the soil damp but avoid overwatering. You may have to mist the herbs every day, especially if your home is dry during the winter months.
To keep your herbs growing, use them! Snipping off enough leaves for a recipe or garnish will keep the plants healthy and thriving.
Step 3: Dry Your Herbs
Dry your harvested herbs and store them for later use. While fresh herbs are great for in-the-moment flavoring or garnish when you cook, drying and storing them for later can save you money and time by having them on hand when you need them.
There are many ways to dry herbs. But before you do so, be sure to wash them after harvesting. Just place them in a colander and rinse them with cool water from the faucet.
Air-Dry the Herbs
The simplest method for drying herbs before cooking is to lay the herb stems out individually on a dishtowel and let them collectively air dry for a few minutes while you prepare your food for cooking.
To dry them thoroughly for storage, try bundling up your harvested herb cuttings and lay them out in the sun to dry. Let them dry out for a couple of days—be sure to check on them periodically so that the weather won’t ruin your drying efforts. When they’ve shriveled up and crumble in your hands, they have dried out sufficiently.
Dry the Herbs in an Oven
You can also dry them out in the oven. Heat the oven to the lowest possible temperature. Place your herb cuttings on a baking sheet, arranging them individually. Place the baking sheet in the oven and let the warm oven air slowly dry them out. Periodically check on them and turn each piece over to make sure they’re drying out sufficiently and that they aren’t burning. When they feel slightly crisp, they’re done.
Grind and Store the Dried Herbs
Once you’ve dried your herbs, grind them up using a mortar and pestle. Store them in airtight herb jars or similar containers. If the storage vessel isn’t airtight, your herbs can become stale and lose their flavor and aroma.
To determine if your stored herbs are still “fresh”, simply open their containers and test with your nose. If the contents give off no aroma, then it’s time to restock your supply of that herb.
That’s it! Now you’ve got your own stockpile of flavorful herbs ready to go when it’s time to start cooking.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.