Having fresh herbs to hand makes home cooking even tastier. During the warmer months of the year I like to make sure I’ve got some of my Summer-grown herbs stashed away ready for use in the colder months too. A little while ago I was telling you about the various herbs I am growing and preserving this year.
One of the herbs I grew from seed this Spring was the wonderfully aromatic Sage. I cut my first batch of Sage 6 weeks ago on 24th June and hung it up to dry. Now this week I when I checked its progress I decided it was dried enough and ready to ‘rub’. Rubbing Sage is simply breaking up the dried leaves with your fingertips so that the herb can easily be stored in a jar ready for use.
You can rub Sage onto a plate or other surface but as I only had a small batch to rub I attempted to rub it straight into the jar … most of it went in, as you can see, with only a little escaping onto the clean cardboard beneath. First I removed the Sage leaves from their stem. To do this, hold the base of the stem in one hand and point the leaves downwards. With your other hand, pinch the stem firmly near its base between your thumb and first finger. Then draw your ‘pinch’ downwards, pulling the leaves from the stem as you move towards the top of the stem.
Now we are ready to rub the Sage leaves. It’s best to lay the leaves down and work with just a few at at time. Hold the leaves between your thumbs and fingertips and literally rub the leaves. If they are dry enough they should break fairly easily, though some may need a little tug to tear them apart. Sage leaves don’t take much processing as we are aiming for small pieces of leaf rather than dust! When all of the leaves have been rubbed they can be stored in an air-tight jar.
I love not only the smell of Sage but the texture of the leaves too, so rubbing the Sage allows me to enjoy both! I think the way the veins grow in the Sage leaves give them such an interesting mosaic texture.
My Sage plants have also now grown on enough to allow me to cut a second batch today and hang them up in their brown paper packet for drying. This second batch is more substantial than the first. This is because when I cut the Sage I left about one third of the stem on each plant. All of the stems I had left have now re-sprouted strongly. Again I have left a little of each stem to enable the Sage to regrow.
Maybe I will be able to take a third batch for drying before the plants slow down their growth when the weather begins to grow colder and there’s less sunshine – I shall have to wait and see.
This year I have started afresh with growing the herbs I use most – some indoors, some in my back yard. I have Parsley, Sage, Thyme and Mint. As well as using fresh herbs over the Summer, I will also cut and dry some sprigs from all of my herbs except the Parsley.
One of the advantages of growing herbs at home is that I can also dry or preserve herbs for use when my herb plants are less productive during the colder months of the year. Sage, Thyme and Mint are all easily dried for future use. I don’t dry Parsley but I generally put some in the freezer from the Summer crop, as well as keeping a pot herb on a warm window ledge over Winter which can still be snipped occasionally for garnishes.
Today I was cutting my first batch of Sage for drying. It’s best to cut herbs early in the day before the sun evaporates their plant oils as we want to retain as much of the oils as possible for their flavour and health-giving properties.
I snipped all of the main Sage stems by about two thirds, leaving about a third of each stem, making sure there were some side shoots on each stem stump waiting to sprout away.
As I’d been growing this pot of Sage indoors, the cut stems and leaves were clean enough ready to bag up for drying without needing any extra washing.
Then it was a simple task of arranging my bundle of Sage with stem ends together in a paper wrapping. I used some brown kraft paper for wrapping my herbs today, but I’ve also used newspapers or paper bags of various sorts for this purpose.
All we need to do when drying herbs is to tie up the herbs in small bunches and exclude light to help preserve the colour a little. Small bunches of herbs are best as they dry more evenly. There is always a risk with larger bunches that the leaves will develop mildew rather than drying properly. I also check my herbs after a few days just to make sure they are drying successfully. The bunch of Sage I had cut today I made up into one bundle.
My bundle of paper-wrapped Sage is then hung up to dry with the leaves pointing downwards. Hanging herbs upside-down to dry helps to direct any plant oils in the stems into the leaves, which is where we want them.
I’ll show you the next stage when the Sage is dry – that will be rubbing the Sage and packing it into a jar.