The New Home Economics

Drying foods for long-term storage

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Here’s an area I’m just starting to, uh, get my feet wet in. A while back, I realized how fantastic certain herbs tasted when homegrown and dried. Last year, we had a very respectable herb store for the winter. We still have a bit of 2010 thyme left, more than enough to last us until April, so I didn’t dry any thyme this year.

This year I really wanted to get into growing my own herbal teas. So to that end, I planted significantly more mint in the shady area on the north side of the house. I’m not sure whether that long-term strategy is going to pay off because the mint just does not grow very enthusiastically in the deep shade. I may try more mint elsewhere in the yard next year–avoiding full sun so that it doesn’t get completely out of control. So here’s my respectable (in my opinion) first-ever herbal tea harvest for 2011:

home grown herbal teas

Left to right: foraged banana mint from a neglected garden (strange but good), peppermint from a neighbor, chamomile from our garden (we’ve already used more than half our supply) and chocolate mint from our garden. These make FANTASTIC teas. We usually just make loose-leaf tea in one of our french press coffee makers.  I love growing plants for tea — especially since so many are perennials.  Here are some tea plants you could grow:

German Chamomile: technically an annual, but I’ve had reports from other master gardeners that it re-seeds itself readily. It definitely needs full sun, and an open, breezy spot would suit it well — I’ve had mine fall victim to powdery mildew a few times.

Mint: there must be 4,000 varieties of mint, and all are perennials that do well in MN. Be aware that mint can become invasive in full sun. Better to plant it in part (but not full) shade to keep it under control.

Feverfew: looks and acts a lot like chamomile. Can be used medicinally for migraines. On my list to try for 2012.

Lemon Balm: another one with many varieties. Useful in salad dressings, too. Also on my list to plant in 2012.

Anise Hyssop: a midwest native that will tolerate part-shade. Licorice-flavor tea. On my 2012 list.

Valerian: gets four feet tall! Root is used as a sedative.

Well there you have just a few, but there are many, many more. We’ve also made tea with sage and raspberry leaves, since we usually have them in ready supply.

Here’s some more of our dry harvest:

1/2 pint (packed) rosemary, a bit of oregano, Christmas lima beans and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans. I know that dried beans are super cheap to buy, but you can’t really buy the heritage ones anywhere. They are super fun and easy to grow, so why not?! Unfortunately many of us in the Twin Cities had uninspiring bean harvests this year, but… well… there’s always next year.

Finally, sage and garlic in a very inspiring picture, photographically speaking. Good grief. Anyway, you get the idea. This will be the first time ever that we might just make it until next year without having to buy garlic. The sage should be dried out in another week.  It’s so great having some of our harvest put-by with minimal effort — drying could not be easier or less resource-intensive.

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2 thoughts on “Drying foods for long-term storage

  1. Pingback: Whiskey Cream Gravy and Recipe Roundup | The Heavy Table - Minneapolis-St. Paul and Upper Midwest Food Magazine and Blog

  2. Great article. You may wish to remind your readers that if they live in a humid climate – the drying process should be done in a dryer or oven to keep the herbs from growing mold during the drying process. Oh – and don’t forget to keep a ‘fresh herb’ indoor herb garden too. Great for a handful of fresh flavor in any dish.

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