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Using Herbs

The many ways in which herbs can be used could go a long way to explain their popularity. There are no real absolute unchallengeable rules when it comes to herbs but rather subtle applications and balances arrived at through experimentation, intuition and, plain old, trial and error. There are, however, certain tried and tested standards such as Basil and tomatoes and mint and Green tea. It is also important to remember that herbs not only add flavour to food but also add significant nutrient value as they contain many vitamins, minerals and organic acids. These nutrients increase the circulation of blood to the skin, improve kidney functioning and stimulate the digestive system. They can also be used as a healthier alternative to many spices.

Drying Herbs

Why dry you own herbs when many of them can easily be bough at you local supermarket? You may ask. Well, besides the fact that it's a lot of fun to cultivate, process and make use of something from start to finish, home dried herbs tend to be filled with far more flavour and vitality then there mass dried, supermarket bought counterparts. (Not to say that the latter version does not have its place, though)

Herbs to be dried should be harvested in the morning once the dew on them has evaporated and before the sun has had time to dehydrate them. It is important not to bruise the plants while harvesting them so make use of a sharp knife or scissors. Choose only undamaged, leafy shoots as these will produce the most flavour. Annuals should be cut at ground level and biennials should be cut about halfway down.

Once harvested, give them a quick dip in cold water and then pat dry with a soft cloth. You should then start the drying process immediately. The larger herbs should be tied in bundles and hung with the leaves facing downward (so that the oils in the stems can flow into the leaves) in an airy loft, warm shed or drying cupboard. It is important that there is a constant circulation of dry, dust free air and that the plants are not exposed to any sunlight. Remember that when you do block the sunlight from windows you must make sure not to restrict the circulation of air. Try to ensure that the temperature of the room does not drop to bellow 27 degrees C (80 F)

The time the herbs take to dry varies from a couple of hours (parsley) to about 3 weeks. Note that herbs such as mint and basil that have a high moisture content should be dried quickly to prevent them from becoming mouldy. The herbs are sufficiently dry when they are crisp, break easily and can be rubbed into flakes.