Summer has pretty much dribbled away for this year and I am starting to turn from the garden to the kitchen. Unfortunately, I can’t speak of cooking with my end of year harvest as I’ve long ago gobbled up the umami filled, little orange tomatoes but I am harvesting and drying the more sensitive herbs, like pineapple sage, and using my prolifically growing chocolate mint for teas.
Tea can be made with either fresh or dried leaves. I’d suggest that if you live in an area where flowers don’t generally survive the winter or you know an herb has died off in the past, just harvest the whole plant for drying. If the plant will continue to grow during the winter, cut to allow at least two sets (two levels) of leaves on the stem.
To use the fresh leaves, rinse the stems and throw away any unhealthy leaves, filling your empty cup 1/3 to 1/4 of the way full with the herb. Fill with boiling water, bruise the leaves some to release the oils, and let steep for five minutes or more if you like your tea stronger. To strain the leaves, use a colander or even a fork.
As far as drying the leaves, first clean them as I described above. I don’t have any sort of dehydrator myself and have found herbs dry perfectly well on the counter in a dry area. I put the leaves on a paper towel and just let them be until they are very crunchy.
Some herb leaves are more hardy and will take forever to dry. You can hurry the drying process by putting the leaves on a tray on the top rack of the oven, on the lowest setting for two to four hours or until they crumble.
Either way be sure the leaves are dry. If you put the leaves in a container when they still have any moisture in them, they will end up molding and who wants penicillin tea?
Another option is to freeze the leaves for future use. I’ve stuffed leaves and water in ice cube trays and frozen them so they can be taken out and used individually and it’s worked well but my freezer is full to busting so I’m going the drying route this year.
For the coolness factor and calorie savings, there’s nothin’ better than cozying up with a warm cuppa. Mix your teas for even more complex flavor or add ginger, lemon or sweetener and bask in the wind and rain outside.