I spend much of the growing season putting fresh herbs in and on everything, from last week’s Dill-Infused Yogurt Sauce or Dressing to the Rhubarb-Rosemary Sorbet recipe I shared last summer. But as soon as plants become big enough for a large cutting, I start drying homegrown herbs to use the rest of the year.
Last Christmas, I gifted my parents a collection of homemade spice and herb mixes, along with simple recipes for using them. One of the gifted jars blended four of my homegrown and dried herbs that my parents now mix into salad dressing, sprinkle over roasted vegetables, season chicken breasts and use in many other recipes that call for dried herbs.
This runs counter to the way I store and use home-dried herbs in my kitchen, where each large glass jar holds whole leaves of one herb type so that I can crumble them in endless combinations into whatever I’m cooking. I do the same with whole spices and seeds, running them a tablespoon or two at a time through a coffee grinder. Just as grinding whole spices at home releases flavorful oils on the spot, crushing dried herbs as you use them maximizes their taste and aroma in each of your dishes.
Homemade herb blends can taste as bright even as they simplify meals. Drying herbs from your garden or a farmer’s market captures their freshness. Storing the blend in a large enough jar that the leaves stay nearly whole locks in that flavor until you want to release it.
I find most herbs easier to strip from their stems after they’ve been dried, and my dehydrator trays easily hold 6-inch-long sprigs. Basil can take longer to dry than many other herbs, so I remove these from the stem while fresh and space them out evenly of maximum air circulation. Large, juicy leaves, like Genovese and Napolitano varieties, can take so long to dry that I spread them on a tray at room temperature for a couple of days before turning on the dehydrator.
DIY Herb Blend
Makes about 8 tablespoons
6 sprigs fresh basil
10 sprigs fresh oregano
8 sprigs fresh parsley
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
Remove the basil leaves from their stems, letting them air-dry for a couple of days if desired. Lay basil leaves and oregano, parsley, and rosemary sprigs on screen-lined dehydrator screens or parchment paper set on dehydrator trays. Dry them at the lowest setting, about 95°F, for about 20 hours, until the leaves crumble easily crumbled and the stems are brittle.
Strip the leaves from their stems, collecting them in a large glass measuring cup. Crush them just enough that you can mix the herbs. Using a wide-mouth funnel, pour the herbs into a small jar. Store in a cool, dry place out of direct light. When using the blend, crumble large pieces as needed.
Note: If using previously dried herbs, combine 3 tablespoons basil, 3 tablespoons oregano, 2 tablespoons parsley and 1 tablespoon rosemary.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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