- Michele Spence
Into the Attic We Go
I grow a number of herbs during the active growing season, there’s nothing quite like their fresh picked flavor. In the winter, dried herbs are the norm, but why go out and buy them, there must be a way to preserve them at the end of summer, right? I decided I wanted a place to dry thin skinned herbs and came up with the idea of using a portion of my attic. You won’t use an attic in the heart of a Georgia summer when temperatures could soar to well over 110 degrees, but an attic in the spring and fall is perfect.
I went upstairs and had a look around, first, I had to sort through all the boxes, junk and treasures to clear out an area to work in. My father loved to save empty boxes, I think every box from anything he ever purchased was still in the house when I moved in, and the attic was still loaded with them. I hauled all the boxes and old Christmas trees down from upstairs and discarded them, I discovered childhood works of art, ice skates, meat grinders, punch bowls and more; a job put off for a decade, became something I truly enjoyed.
I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel and decided to keep my project as simple as possible. Looking at the slant of the ceiling, made me realize that cup holders would work perfectly to hang bundled herbs from. In case the herbs dropped any leaves or petals, I needed screens to catch any debris before it hit the floor. I dug around and found a bunch of cup holders and extra rolls of screen from when I fixed a few panels on my porch. I had to run to the store and purchase a few more supplies, but so far my cash outlay was well under $30.00.
It took a few hours on a few Saturday’s, but I’m thrilled with the project’s outcome. I’ve already used it to dry some Goldenrod and Rosemary, and can’t wait to dry more herbs next year.
Here are some tips and things to remember when drying herbs-
Most herbs are harvested just prior to bloom, in the morning just as the dew is drying on the leaves. Many people believe that it is best to harvest above ground herbs during the waxing moon phase. The waxing moon phase is the moon cycle between the New Moon and the Full Moon. This is when the moon is gaining and expanding, and its gravitational force is pulling away from the earth, it’s believed that a plant’s properties are being pulled as well. When harvesting herbal roots, it is best to do so during the waning moon when the gravitational force is pushing against the earth. A good rule of thumb is to harvest above ground herbs during the waxing moon and ready them for storage or final preparations during the waning moon.
Watch your temperature, many herbs will lose their volatile oils if dried in an environment over 100 - 105 degrees. Check with an herbal chart for specific temperatures.
Keep drying herbs out of direct sunlight.
Thin skinned herbs like oregano, dill, Greek Oregano, mints and sage can be bundled and hung upside down. Other herbs do best in a high-quality food dehydrator, each herb has a distinct drying profile and it’s best to use it. Dehydrators run anywhere from $50 to $200, like any tool, purchase the best one you can afford, a temperature control mechanism is an ideal feature. Some folks have touted drying herbs in the microwave, which is a terrible idea, the volatile oils are cooked from the inside out. You want to dry your herbs, not cook them.
Airflow is a critical part of drying herbs successfully. Don’t make your bundles too large, make sure each bundle has adequate air circulation, you don’t want an herbal moldy mess. If you’re concerned about airflow, invest in a box fan.
Good luck and happy preserving!