Drying plants of all kinds

All things dried and beautiful

Fall is the time to gather and dry things, like herbs, seeds and flowers.  The warm, dry sunny days will soon be over.  Chose a stretch of warm sunny weather, like we are having this week to harvest things you want to dry.  Most things should be harvested before frost, although a few things can still be harvested after a frost or even a freeze.  Besides food, you may want to dry some flowers or collect interesting seed heads to use as decorations.

Drying is a very old method of preserving food.  Even meat and fleshy fruits like pumpkins and apples were dried to preserve them. In earlier times the sun and sometimes fire or smoke were used to dry foods and decorations.  We now have some other methods of drying food and decorations but the sun and a warm spot by the fire are still good choices too.

Herb drying

Herbs can be dried in a number of ways.  You can hang small bunches of herbs in a warm, dry, dark place.  You can place them in a paper bag and leave them in your car, sitting in the sun.  You can dry herbs in a dehydrator if it has a low setting.  You can also dry some herbs on trays in the sun, although herbs retain their flavors better if dried in the dark.

You can dry herbs in the microwave if you use caution.  Place small amounts of a leafy herb on a paper plate, cover with a paper towel to absorb moisture.  Microwave in short time spans, 30 seconds at a time, checking between each burst of microwaving.  When they are dry and crispy they are done.  Don’t microwave too long or you’ll start a fire or scorch the herbs. 


Herbs can also be dried by immersing them in salt or sugar.  This works best if leaves are removed from stems.  Put a layer of salt or sugar in a container then a layer of herbs, a layer of salt or sugar and so on.   Put the herbs in a single layer without crowding them.  Use salt to preserve herbs you use in meat dishes, soups and stews.  Use sugar to preserve herbs that might be used in baking or desserts like lavender. 

You can shift the dried herbs out of the salt of sugar and store them separately.  Save the salt or sugar because it will taste and smell like the herbs dried in it and can be used in cooking.  You can also crumble the herbs and leave them in the salt or sugar and use that in cooking.

Seed drying

You may want to dry seeds to save and plant next year or to use in cooking. It’s always best to let seeds remain on the plant as long as possible.  If you must cut seed pods/heads before they are brown and ripe place them in paper bags in small bunches and let them dry further in a warm, dry location. Once seed pods open or seed heads are very dry you can remove the individual seeds from them.  The seeds usually require a bit more drying before storage.

The best way to dry a small amount of seeds is to spread them in a single layer in the sun or in a warm dark location.  If the seeds are fleshy or still wet put them on a piece of screen instead of paper so they won’t stick to the paper as they dry.  Protect drying seeds from birds and animals.  You can dry seeds in a dehydrator too.  Don’t use high heat on any seeds you are saving to plant or you will damage the plant embryo.  Certainly you won’t want to microwave these.

Large seeds like beans, nuts and acorns can be stored in baskets or other containers to dry. Containers that allow airflow like wicker baskets or crates with gaps are best.  It will take longer to dry these.  Remove the hulls from walnuts and hickories before storage.  When dry nutmeats will be firm and dry in texture, not milky or soft.
Purple hyacinth bean

Drying fruits and vegetables

A modern dehydrator works wonders on these.  However the older methods still work too.  Wash and inspect the fruits and vegetables first. Cut out bad areas, and discard produce that’s mushy or moldy.  Slice fruits and vegetables thinly and remove seeds.  Some people peel things like carrots and apples before drying them, others do not.  Always wash produce even if you peel it, because bacteria will contaminate the product as you peel it if it’s dirty.

If you don’t use a dehydrator the fruits and vegetables can be strung on string or wire and allowed to dry in a warm, protected place.  Or they can be spread on a screen in the sun and covered with a layer of cheesecloth to keep insects away.  Juicy fruits like grapes and raspberries need to be inspected frequently and any moldy fruits removed.  It sometimes helps to turn these over part way through drying.  Drying without a dehydrator will take several days, depending on the conditions and what is being dried.

If you have an oven that has a low heat (below 200 degrees F.) or warming setting you can dry fruits and vegetables in it.  They should be sliced thin and arranged in a single layer on trays.  Never leave the home or go to bed while they are drying in the oven.  It can take 12 hours or more to dry things this way so plan accordingly.

When food is thoroughly dried it should be stored in clean glass containers with tight lids.  Canning jars work well.  Food grade plastic containers can also be used.

Drying flowers and decorative seedpods or seedheads

Flowers need more care to dry than herbs if you want them to look good.  Some flowers like statice, baby’s breath and strawflowers will dry naturally and keep their shape and color pretty well.  These you can gather in loose bunches and hang in a dry warm area to dry.  Your car trunk works well on these too.  It creates a nice hot dark area to dry flowers without bleaching the color out.

You can stand flower heads or seed pods of things like Japanese lanterns, money plant, hydrangeas, grass seedheads, cattails and so on in containers in a warm dark place like a closet or attic until they dry. Don’t crowd them.  Or hang them in loose bunches also.

Other flowers like roses and daisies can be dried in something like silica gel or borax.  This is a time consuming and delicate process but it preserves the color and shape of the flowers.  You can find the products in craft stores and they will have directions on how to use them. 

You can also press flowers and dry them for use in crafts.  If you have a large heavy book like a family bible or old encyclopedias a few flowers can be pressed and dried in the pages.  Or you can build or buy a flower press.  These flowers will be flattened and will probably lose some of their natural color. 

Basically to press dry flowers you place flowers between two sheets of white tissue paper and then weigh them down.  This can be in the pages of a book or under a stack of books or in a flower press.  Small flowers with single layers of petals work best.  Don’t use newspaper or colored paper to wrap the flowers in as it may leave ink colors on the flowers.  It will take a month or more to dry the flowers.

Other things to dry for potpourri

Potpourri is a mixture of dry things which smell nice and have visual appeal. If you like to make potpourri you may want to dry things like orange and lemon rinds, small pinecones, bay leaves, rose petals, rose hips, sweet grass, lavender buds, small pieces of aromatic barks and other things you collect that might add scent or visual appeal to a potpourri mixture.  Most of these things can simple be left in a warm dry place to dry.  To keep colors nice, dry potpourri ingredients out of strong light.

Most potpourri making instructions call for using a fixative – generally orris root, which can be found in craft stores or on line.  But you don’t absolutely need a fixative if you keep each potpourri mixture for only a short time- say a month or two and replenish it.  Store your dry ingredients in tightly closed containers until you use them.  Tossing your decorative ingredients with a couple teaspoons of cinnamon can work as a fixative if you like the cinnamon smell.  You can also use spice mixes like apple pie spice or pumpkin pie spice as a fixative and for their scent.

To make potpourri smell nice use essential oils sprinkled on things like small pinecones, pieces of bark or other porous items that you include in your mixture.  Even a few wood shavings sprinkled with essential oils can be mixed into potpourri.  The essential oils will give you a wider range of scents and the scent will last longer than some natural ingredients.  Kitchen ingredients like vanilla or lemon extract can also be used to soak or dip potpourri items into.

Using dried beans

There are many beautiful colored dry beans or peas on the market or maybe you grew some unique beans this year.  These dry beans can be layered in pretty glass jars for attractive decorative accents. If the container was clean and it’s kept dry and covered the beans could be cooked later.  Or dried beans can be placed in shallow containers to hold the stems of dry flowers. 

Dried beans have also been turned into jewelry and used to make colorful artistic collages.  Children often enjoy playing with a jar of colorful dried beans- gluing them on paper to make pictures or on jars or boxes for gifts. Just make sure they don’t stick them up their nose!

Uses for dried sweet woodruff

Sweet woodruff is a plant that grows well in shady areas as a groundcover.  The flowers are used to flavor wine in the spring.  But sweet woodruff can also be used to help keep moths off stored clothes and linens while leaving them with a pleasant scent.  Simply dry the foliage of sweet woodruff for a few days and then place in in your drawers and closets among the clothes.

If someone in your family has smelly shoes or boots dry lots of sweet woodruff foliage and pack the smelly shoes or boots with it for a few days.  You can powder the dried sweet woodruff foliage in a food processor and use it as a foot or shoe powder also.

Uses for dried hops

Hop cones or flower heads are most commonly used for beer making.  Some people don’t make beer even though they have a hop plant or two or they have more hop cones then they need for beer.  There are other uses for those hop cones though.

Hops (Humulus lupulus),are closely related to marihuana and they also produce aromatic oils in their buds and to some extent their foliage.  While hops won’t get you high the hop cones will make you sleepy if you sniff them because the aromatic oils contain a mild sedative.  Hop pillows are made for those who have trouble sleeping and they are also said to produce pleasant dreams.

To make a hop sleep aid you can simply enclose hop cones in a small cheesecloth or thin cotton bag and sleep with the bag close to your nose.  Or you can make a more elaborate pillow using hop cones and other herbs like lavender packed with cotton, goose down, spun fibers or shredded foam to make a pillow you actually sleep on.  Be aware that these pillows will lose their potency over time and can’t be washed.  That’s why the packets seem more practical.  Make several, store the unused ones in a closed jar and replace the packet on the bed every few weeks.

Dried hops also have medicinal uses.  Made into a tea with other herbs or sugar to disguise the bitter taste hop tea can be used for indigestion. Hop tea has antiseptic properties and can also be used for bladder infections and as a skin wash for wounds.  The tea is also used as a sedative and to calm the nerves.  Sometimes hop cones are steeped in warm wine or sherry for the calming and sedative effects also.

Dried cleavers seeds

Clevers (Galium aparine)- are a common weed found nearly everywhere.  They are also called bedstraw, or goose grass. The plants are sprawling, floppy things.  The stems of cleavers are have tiny prickles and are square. The leaves are small and narrow and occur in whorls around the stem.

Clever flowers are inconspicuous greenish things.   The tiny round two compartment seeds that form have little bristles that cling to fur or clothes much like a bur.  If you like natural foraging or want to be prepared for all emergency situations that come up you might want to collect the tiny seeds of clevers when you find them. Clevers is usually found in moist, partially shaded areas.

Clever seeds can be used as a coffee substitute.  The small seeds are washed and rubbed to remove the sticky green pod and then the black hard seeds are spread on a cookie sheet and toasted at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes.  The roasted seeds can then be ground and brewed like coffee.

You can use any left over, cooled cleavers coffee or brew up an especially strong batch as a deodorant.  Simply soak a cotton ball in it and rub under your arms.  You can also use it to wash smelly feet.  Clevers coffee or tea is also said to be good for skin problems like rashes and minor wounds and softens the hands if soaked in it.    

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