2 In History

Foods of Yesteryear: Dried Herbs

Foods of Yesteryear: Dried HerbsOur garden has been producing herbs a-plenty this year, and I’m starting to research how to save some of their fine flavor for winter. As I always do, I hit up Google to see what I could find…

It seems that most current methods use the freezer as an efficient way to preserve herbs, but my mind instantly wondered about those quaint ol’ days in the nineteenth century – days without freezers, indoor plumbing, or electricity.

What did they do back then to preserve their thyme? Well, look no further than One thousand domestic hints (published in 1871). This book is full of helpful tidbits that run the gamut from beer buying to the prevention of bruised knees whilst scrubbing the kitchen floor…and right there in the middle: a timetable for drying herbs.

To Dry Herbs

The following is a calendar of the times for drying herbs for winter which are used in cookery: Cut the herbs on a dry day, just before they flower: cut off the hard parts of the stems, and dry the tender tops and leaves in an oven (or hot closet or screen) between two dishes, as quickly as possible, provided they are not burnt; pick off the leaves while hot, pound them well in a mortar, and put them into bottles to be well stopped; they ought to be green, but crisp.


Basil is in the best state for drying from the middle of August, and three weeks after.

Knotted Marjoram, from the beginning of July and during the same.

Winter Savoury, the latter end of July, and throughout August.

Summer Savoury, the latter end of July, and throughout August.

Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Orange Thyme, during June and July.

Mint, latter end of June and during July.

Sage, August and September.

Tarragon, June, July, and August.

Chervil, May, June, and July.

Burnet and Basil, June, July, and August.

Parsley, May, June, and July.

Fennel, May, June, and July.

Elder-flowers, May, June, and July.

Herb-mixture of equal proportions of knotted marjoram and winter savoury, with half the quantity of basil, thyme, and tarragon, dried, rubbed to powder, and kept in a closely corked bottle, will be useful for force-meats and flavouring.

By John Timbs, via Google Books

Read more of our Foods of Yesteryear series here.

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  • Reply
    July 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

    I’ve had problems drying herbs in the past. But one thing I’ve found that works is to cut a bunch of stems, tie them together with butchers twine leaving a lead, and then hanging the bunch from the lead in a nice sunny window. Dried in a couple of days, then pull the leaves from the stems and do with as you please.

  • Reply
    July 30, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    You can also dry curry leaves by simply leaving some leafy twigs out in the sun until they are green but crisply dry. Then you can remove the stems by just rubbing your handles up and down the bundle of leaves. I’ve been using a lot stored in an old Gerber meal bottle for several months now. They taste almost as good as the fresh leaves.

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