Drying herbs is easy and doesn’t require any special equipment or skill. Setting up your own drying system is fun and provdes you with a healthy way to start drinking herbal teas from your own harvest and avoid the pesticides, artificial ingredients, added flavors and GMOs commonly found in commercial tea brands like Lipton, Twinings and Celestial Seasonings (http://foodbabe.com/2013/08/21/do-you-know-whats-really-in-your-tea/)
Tested and approved methods to dry herbs
The drying process is natural. If you leave a bunch of mint on your kitchen counter, it will dry no matter what. Therefore, when it comes to drying herbs, your only task is to make sure your herbs are getting adequate heat and ventilation. There are countless ways to set up a drying system, but here are the 3 main rules you must keep in mind:
-Keep the herbs away from sunlight
-Set your dryer in a well-ventilated space
-Do not store your herbs before they are completely dry
The mosquito net method:
This easy setup supplies maximum air and heat to the herbs and will almost always give you good results. It is ideal for delicate parts like flowers. With this method, herbs will dry quite fast, between 1 to 6 days depending on the type of herbs you’re drying and the climate.
2. Cover the surface that will be exposed to the sun with 1 layer of newspaper. To make sure the wind won’t interfere, secure the newspaper with laundry clips, strings or an elastic band.
3. Put your dryer in a sunny area above ground with the help of chairs, or suspend it with ropes. The goal is to have air flowing through.
4. Wait and monitor the process. Make changes as needed, like changing the location of your dryer to a sunnier and windier space.
Pictures: Hoary basil drying. This setup is similar to the mosquito net method but is directly on the floor instead of a surface that allows air through. The herbs will then be covered with a newspaper and weighed down. This method needs more drying time but requires only newspaper.
This is the ultimate lazy setup that can be realized in virtually any surrounding. It will work well with just about any herb but it is ideal for herbs that are not very humid, like rosemary and sage.
1. Tie together herbs in a small bouquet not wider than 3 fingers.
2. Hang the bouquet upside down in a shaded and well-ventilated area, for example a closet with a fan, or a shaded terrace or balcony. You can also use the clothesline where you usually hang your laundry - just make sure you cover your harvest with newspaper to avoid burning.
3. Wait and monitor the process.
4. Make any changes needed, such as reducing the size of the bunches or adding a fan. With this method, herbs will dry in 3 to 9 days.
This method works well for harder plant parts that contain a lot of water, like roots and fruits. Do not use this method for flowers or leaves, as you will only turn them to ash.
1. Slice the fruits or roots as thin as you can. Aim for less than 5 mm thickness for a fast drying.
2. Preheat your oven at minimum heat. The lower the heat, the better the result.
3. Lay your roots/fruits on a pan making sure they don’t overlap. Place the pan in the center of the oven. Do not completely close the oven door so as to allow water to escape and speed up the process.
4. Wait and monitor. Oven-drying is quite fast compared to other methods, but you can burn your batch if you leave it too long in the oven. Roots can be left overnight, while fruits are different in shapes and water content and will require you to peek in the oven every 2 hours or so.
Go ahead and start drying!
Here are 3 herbs worth having around that are easily available directly from nature or from the supermarket. I cannot stress how important buying organic fresh herbs is, especially in a country where pesticides regulation is nowhere to be found. ‘’Do no harm’’ should always be the motto when it comes to medicine, and pesticides do harm.
Mint is by far the easiest herb to find in Lebanon. If you do not know someone who grows it at home, you can find it anywhere from supermarkets to small shops, but I recommend Souk el Tayeb for the best organic quality. You can use the bouquet method to dry this one, just make sure you tie it in small bunches.
Mint is refreshing and cooling; it is well-suited for a late afternoon invigorating infusion as well as an after-dinner digestive tonic. It has no equal to help bloated and hypersensitive digestive systems. It is great against headaches, so next time try a strong infusion instead of Panadol.
If the smell and taste of rose is not enough to convince you to give it a try, know that it is an efficient medicinal herb too, with its soothing action on the heart and the emotions. It is a calming, sweet herb I recommend for people feeling a little sad or heartbroken. It also relieves and prevents menstrual cramps.
The best time to pick rose flowers is right before they are fully bloomed. Any fragrant variety of rose will do, though I have a sweet spot for Damascus rose and the small roses you can find in the wild. Avoid ornamental varieties, as they have virtually no smell and contain no medicine. Roses are very delicate and the whole flower should be dried with the mosquito net method.
Lemons, oranges, grapefruits and pomelos are really fun to dry. You can slice them to keep their original circle shape and pulp. They will make beautiful decoration items and will add a nice touch to your tea blends. You can also peel and slice the fruit's skin, discarding the pulp, for a more medicinal product. Both cases require the low-heat oven method.
Citruses are digestive tonics and energy stimulant. They make every cup of tea taste better. Try the citrus-vanilla-orange blossom water (mazaher) combination for an energy boosting morning tea.
Take care of yourself and enjoy your cup of home-made wellness!