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.
There’s always something magical I think about seeing tiny seedlings sprouting through the earth in Spring, whether they’re out ‘in the wild’ or if they’re just regular domesticated seedlings I’ve sown myself.
My first sowing for this year was a tray of mixed salad leaves that I started off early in February. I grow most of my ‘eating’ leaves on a sunny east-facing window ledge so they can get plenty of daylight … without the having to compete with my slimy mollusc friends who frequent my back yard! This first sowing of leaves is now just about large enough to begin picking.
I find it very convenient to have fresh salad leaves to hand so I tend to choose the cut-and-come-again varieties. Another thing I do is to make regular sowings to provide an ongoing supply. My second sowings went in early in March and are showing good progress already. Our recent prolonged spell of Spring sunshine has certainly helped them on their way. These leaves are another variety of lettuce and my first sowing of rocket of this year. I like to add rocket and some wild leaves usually too to my salads to give a bit of extra flavour and bite.
As well as salad leaves I also like to grow a few fresh herbs. My mint cutting is still thriving as it sets down its new roots in its new ‘big’ pot – it looked a bit lost when I first planted it out, but it is beginning to spread out now, as mint likes to do. And this weekend I was delighted to see my first parsley seedling hook its tiny pale crook through the compost and open its seed leaves to the light. Now it has been joined by a number of others too.
I sowed the parsley in early March at the same time as the lettuce and rocket, though the parsley has been residing on a different window ledge that has the benefit of sunlight from above and a central heating radiator below. This is my special seed-sprouting and cutting-generating window ledge for those plants that need a greater level of warmth to work their magic.
In my back yard, my self-seeding wild salad leaves are making progress – garlic mustard and bitter cress. Both of these wild plants grow easily I find. The bitter cress arrived of its own accord and is happy to make a home in any of the pots where I allow it to. I originally harvested some local wild seed for my garlic mustard and it has continued to self-seed each year since. I also have two tiny plants of wood sorrel that emerged from some mud cleaned from walking boots! I am hoping they will grow on – perhaps a little rich leaf mould will help them on their way – I shall try.
My next sowing will be some more thyme as that’s another herb I find extremely useful. More time would be good too … I wonder if I can find some seeds in a catalogue for that …. 😉