drying herbs

This is what I’ve learned in the eight or so months I’ve had an herb garden.

Cilantro doesn’t like the heat, despite the fact that I really want to use it when it’s above 90 degrees outside. All of my cilantro right now comes from the grocery store, but it’s only 29 cents a bundle so I’m not too sad about that. The cilantro in my garden has a hard time wanting to live, though.

Basil loves to grow and is incredibly easy, but when the first frost hits, it will die an amazing, spectacular death. Its cells literally explode inside itself, so from one day to the next it just falls completely apart. Fresh basil tastes terrific on everything.

Sage is awesome. I’m growing a silver and a purple sage, and they are both marvelously tasty and miraculously hardy. They survived The Great Austin Snow of 2011 without being covered, and still produce huge, fragrant leaves. The silver sage also sends up stems covered with tiny purple flowers that resemble a smaller larkspur. Clipping these flowers makes a very pretty bouquet, and makes your house smell marvelous.

I’m good at growing chamomile, which is apparently difficult to grow in this climate (who knew?), but I have no idea what to do with it.

Oregano goes crazy. My oregano is a huge bush with long, strong stems. No matter how much I cut it back, it comes back immediately. There will be a lot of Mexican and Italian in my cooking this summer, so I can use up as much of that oregano as possible. Also, you’re all getting jars of homemade dried oregano from me this Christmas. I have plenty.

Chives behave oddly. When they get too mature, they wilt, fall down, turn yellow, and look generally unhappy. Essentially, chives pout when underused. If your chives look unhappy, though, cut them down to about an inch, and four days later you will have tall, straight, marvelously happy chives.

Rosemary, when first transplanted, needs to be watered. Otherwise, like most plants, it will die. If you try to harvest your baby rosemary plant before it’s grown big and strong, it will die. Essentially, when rosemary is young, it’s quite easy to kill. I’m now on rosemary plant #3, but thanks to a rainy couple of weeks, I think this one is going to stick around. Once its taken root, the rumor is that it’s impossible to kill.

And drying herbs is a cinch.

Do this: make an herb garden. Use the sunny part of your porch and an old container, and plant 2-3 herbs per large pot. When you think the herbs are getting too big for the container, clip a few bundles with a pair of scissors. Tie them with some kitchen string and hang them in your pantry or another dark closet or cabinet, and enjoy a few days of that closet smelling herbacious and lovely. When the herbs are dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container. Don’t mince or crush the herbs until you’re ready to use them. They keep for about a year. And give them as gifts!

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