Drying And Storing

When only a small quantity of an herb is to be dried, the old plan of

hanging loose bunches from the ceiling of a warm, dry attic or a kitchen

will answer. Better, perhaps, is the use of trays covered with clean,

stout manilla paper upon which thin layers of the leaves are spread.

These are placed either in hot sunlight or in the warm kitchen where

warm air circulates freely. They must be turned once a day until all the

moisture has been evaporated from the leaves and the softer, more

delicate parts have become crisp. Then they may be crunched and crumbled

between the hands, the stalks and the hard parts rejected and the powder

placed in air-tight glass or earthenware jars or metal cans, and stored

in a cool place. If there be the slightest trace of moisture in the

powder, it should be still further dried to insure against mold. Prior

to any drying process the cut leaves and stems should be thoroughly

washed, to get rid of any trace of dirt. Before being dried as noted

above, the water should all be allowed to evaporate. Evaporation may be

hastened by exposing the herbs to a breeze in a shallow, loose basket, a

wire tray or upon a table. While damp there is little danger of their

being blown away. As they dry, however, the current of air should be

more gentle.

The practice of storing powdered herbs in paper or pasteboard packages

is bad, since the delicate oils readily diffuse through the paper and

sooner or later the material becomes as valueless for flavoring

purposes as ordinary hay or straw. This loss of flavor is particularly

noticeable with sage, which is one of the easiest herbs to spoil by bad

management. Even when kept in air-tight glass or tin receptacles, as

recommended, it generally becomes useless before the end of two years.

When large quantities of herbs are to be cured a fruit evaporator may be

employed, the herbs being spread thinly upon wire-bottomed trays so that

an ample current of air may pass through them. Care must be taken to

keep the temperature inside the machine below 120 degrees. The greatest

efficiency can be secured by placing the trays of most recently gathered

herbs at the top, the partially dried ones being lowered to positions

nearer the source of heat. In this way the fresh, dry, warm air comes in

contact first with the herbs most nearly dried, removes the last

vestige of moisture from them and after passing through the intervening

trays comes to those most recently gathered.

Unless the evaporator be fitted with some mechanism which will permit

all the trays to be lowered simultaneously, the work of changing the

trays may seem too irksome to be warranted. But where no changes of

trays are made, greater care must be given to the bottom trays because

they will dry out faster than those at the top. Indeed in such cases,

after the apparatus is full, it becomes almost essential to move the

trays lower, because if fresh green herbs, particularly those which are

somewhat wet, be placed at the bottom of the series, the air will become

so charged with moisture from them that the upper layers may for a time

actually absorb this moisture and thus take longer to dry. Besides this,

they will surely lose some of their flavoring ingredients--the very

things which it is desired to save.

No effort should be made to hasten the drying process by increasing the

temperature, since this is likely to result as just mentioned. A

personal experience may teach the reader a lesson. I once had a large

amount of parsley to cure and thought to expedite matters by using the

oven of a gas stove. Suffice it to tell that the whole quantity was

ruined, not a pinch was saved. In spite of the closest regulation the

heat grew too great and the flavor was literally cooked out of the

leaves. The delicate oil saturated everything in the house, and for a

week or more the whole place smelled as if chicken fricassee was being

made upon a wholesale plan.

Except as garnishes, herbs are probably more frequently used in a dry

state than in all other ways put together. Perhaps this is because the

method of preparing them seems simpler than that of infusion, because

large quantities may be kept in small spaces, and because they can be

used for every purpose that the fresh plants or the decoctions can be

employed. In general, however, they are called into requisition

principally in dressings, soups, stews and sauces in which their

particles are not considered objectionable. If clear sauces or soups are

desired, the dried herbs may still be used to impart the flavor, their

particles being removed by straining.

The method of preparing dill, anise, caraway and other herbs whose seed

is used, differs from that employed with the foliage herbs mainly in the

ripeness of the plants. These must be gathered as soon as they show

signs of maturity but before the seeds are ready to drop from them. In

all this work especial care must be paid to the details of cleaning. For

a pleasing appearance the seed heads must be gathered before they become

the least bit weather-beaten. This is as essential as to have the seed

ripe. Next, the seed must be perfectly clean, free from chaff, bits of

broken stems and other debris. Much depends upon the manner of handling

as well as upon harvesting. Care must be taken in threshing to avoid

bruising the seeds, particularly the oily ones, by pounding too hard or

by tramping upon them. Threshing should never be done in damp weather;

always when the air is very dry.

In clear weather after the dew has disappeared the approximately ripe

plants or seed heads must be harvested and spread thinly--never packed

firmly--upon stout cloth such as ticking, sailcloth, or factory cotton.

A warm, open shed where the air circulates freely is an admirable place,

since the natural temperature of the air is sufficient in the case of

seeds to bring about good results. Usually in less than a week the tops

will have become dry enough to be beaten out with a light flail or a

rod. In this operation great care must be taken to avoid bruising or

otherwise injuring the seed. The beating should therefore be done in a

sheet spread upon a lawn or at least upon short grass. The force of the

blows will thus be lessened and bruising avoided.

For cleaning herb seeds sieves in all sizes from No. 2 to No. 40 are

needed. The sizes represent various finenesses of mesh. All above No. 8

should be of brass wire, because brass is considerably more durable and

less likely to rust than iron. The cloths upon which the herbs are

spread should be as large as the floor upon which the threshing is to be

done except when the floor is without cracks, but it is more convenient

to use cloths always, because they facilitate handling and temporary

storing. Light cotton duck is perhaps best, but the weave must be close.

A convenient size is 10 x 10 feet.

After the stalks have been removed the seed should be allowed to remain

for several days longer in a very thin layer--the thinner the

better--and turned every day to remove the last vestige of moisture. It

will be even better still to have the drying sheet suspended so air may

circulate below as well as above the seed. Not less than a week for the

smallest seeds and double that time for the larger ones is necessary. To

avoid loss or injury it is imperative that the seed be dry before it is

put in the storage packages. Of course, if infusions are to be made all

this is unnecessary; the seed may be put in the liquor as soon as the

broken stems, etc. are removed subsequent to threshing.