Now is the time to harvest oregano for best flavor when drying
Question: I planted oregano in my garden last summer, and it seems to be doing really well. The plant is lush and green. I'd like to harvest some of the sprigs to dry them for later use. What's the best way for me to do this? Can I just air-dry it or do I need a dehydrator?
Answer: Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a Mediterranean herb, prized for the distinctive flavor it adds to many dishes. There are numerous strains and varieties of oregano available, each with a subtly different flavor. In my own garden, I grow three different types of oregano and each has its own distinctive culinary punch.
Thankfully, oregano is an easy herb to dry, and if it's dried and stored properly, it retains its flavor for many months after harvest.
For the best dried oregano, head out to the garden in late April or early May. By this time, the plant has plenty of new growth, and this fresh, succulent growth has the most intense flavor and the highest oil content. If you wait until the plant has developed flower buds before harvesting your oregano, the flavor may be slightly bitter.
Use a sharp pair of scissors or herb shears to cut off handfuls of tender, green shoots down to the base of the plant. If you gather a group of sprigs in one hand and snip them off with the other, it will be easy to fasten the stems together for drying. Simply line up the cut ends of each bunch, give the sprigs a quick shake to dislodge any insects and debris, then wrap the base of the stems with a rubber band to fasten them together.
Continue making little bundles of oregano sprigs until you feel you have enough.
When the harvested bundles are inside, unfold one paperclip for each bundle to make a mini “S” hook. Slip one end of the “S” under the rubber band. This hook will attach the bunch of oregano to its drying site.
Select a well-ventilated, cool room to air-dry your oregano, and extend a piece of jute twine or ribbon from one location to another in the room. It can extend across a window or door frame, or between two pieces of furniture; just make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight.
After the twine is in place, hang the bunches upside down along the length of the twine, placing them 6 or 7 inches apart for good air circulation. Secure them to the line with the other end of the “S” hook.
You also can use the same drying line to preserve thyme, parsley, basil, bay and other herbs throughout the season.
After the oregano bunches are fully dried, usually in four to six weeks depending on the humidity, remove them from the line. Cut off each rubber band, separate the dried sprigs, and crush the leaves.
Dried oregano and other herbs should be stored separately in air-tight containers. Place them in a dark cupboard for maximum shelf life.
For more rapid drying, spread the freshly cut oregano sprigs on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and put them in a 170-degree oven. Allow the oven door to stay slightly ajar for good air circulation. It will take between a half hour and an hour for the stems to fully dry. You'll know they're finished when the leaves crumble when crushed between your thumb and forefinger.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com.
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