It's that time of the season when the days are growing shorter and the garden is giving up the last of its fruits. The herbs are still full, but it's just a matter of time when all that will remain is faithful Rosemary.
My Basil plants are BUSHY and it's a good time to harvest while the getting is good. But HOW would I collect the leaves and keep them for later use? The ice cube method? Making pesto? No. I really like using dried Basil in my cooking and baking, particularly having Basil in breads.
I pulled out my trusty horticulture encyclopedia and re-familiarized myself with methods of drying herbs. (Did you know that beside being food blogger and a Mom, I'm Horticulturist? Yep, got the B.S. degree and everything.) Anyhoo. I came across the method of "Microwave drying". I don't remember ever reading about this method before. So, I just HAD to give it a whirl and see for myself.
HERE'S WHAT THE ENCYCLOPEDIA SAID
Microwave-dried herbs retain excellent color and potency. Start by laying the herb foliage in a single layer on a paper towel, either on the oven rack or on the glass insert. Cover the leaves with another paper towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Then check the herbs, and if they are still soft, keep testing at 20- to 30-second intervals. Microwave ovens differ in power output, so you'll have to experiment. Keep track of your results with each kind of herb.
Microwave drying is a bit easier on plant tissue than oven drying, because the water in the herb leaves absorbs more of the energy than the plant tissue does. The water in the leaves gets hot and evaporates - that's why the paper towels get damp during the drying process- leaving drying plant tissue behind. The plant tissue heats up a little because of the contact with the water, but the water absorbs most of the heat. In a conventional oven, all the plant material gets hot, not just the water.
SO LET'S PUT THIS TO THE TEST, SHALL WE?
First, I used a tea towel instead of paper towels. 1. Tea towels are very thin, lightweight. and 2. I didn't have any paper towels.
I started with 1-minute on high, then proceeded to 20-second intervals. I learned large Basil leaves needed 2-minutes, whereas the smaller leaves needed anywhere from 30- to 50-seconds.
BE CAREFUL that you don't start a fire in your microwave. Very small leaves burn up very quickly. As you can see from the brown burn mark on the tea towel. After this lesson, I dried large leaves together then smaller leaves together.
It's AMAZING how well this method works! And how the leaves retained their color. I compared these leaves to the dried basil in my spice cabinet; the store bought basil was a sad gray. When the leaves are completely dry, they crumble very easily. You'll soon figure this out for yourself. When they're not finished, they will have a little bend before they break. Just put them back for 20-seconds or more.
NEXT CAME DRYING THE ROSEMARY
Since dealing with such small leaves, I knew it wouldn't take more than 30- to 45-seconds to dry Rosemary leaves in the microwave. It may be hard to tell from the left photo below. The Rosemary dried in 40-seconds, and crumbled with a pinch of the fingers.
LAST CAME GARLIC CHIVES
I figured Garlic Chives represented any fine herb. I wanted to know if it would retain it's wonderful garlic taste. Well, as close as it could get anyway. AND IT DID! It took on 30-seconds to dry the Garlic Chives in the microwave.
NOW CAME THE TIME FOR STORING THE DRIED HERBS
ALWAYS, ALWAYS store dried herbs and spices in a cool, dark, dry space. Away from sunlight, heat and air.
Confession Time: I have a problem throwing good jars away. My favorite are the dark brown yeast jars; they're EXCELLENT for storing herbs, spices and garden seeds. I like to keep a sheet of mailing labels in my chaotic pen/grocery receipts/batteries/rubber bands/clothes pin/chewing gum/unknown keys -kitchen drawer. Together, I have what I need to label the freshly dried herbs.
I hope you've enjoyed this post. I had a BLAST discovering how to dry herbs in the microwave. It felt like I was performing a magic trick. I am changed forever. Give it go and see for yourself!