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Drying herbs, hot peppers allows you to enjoy them all year

Dig In video series: Tips for drying hot peppers, basil and lavender

Enjoy peppers and herbs year-round by drying some of what you harvest. University of Idaho Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith shares some tips in this 21st episode of the Statesman's Dig In garden video series.
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Enjoy peppers and herbs year-round by drying some of what you harvest. University of Idaho Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith shares some tips in this 21st episode of the Statesman's Dig In garden video series.

I’ve never tried drying herbs or peppers — probably because I’ve never really had a bumper crop.

What I grow, I eat. Immediately.

But drying is clearly a great way to spread the season’s bounty through the year, if you’ve got extras. Some gardeners grow extra specifically for that purpose.

One added bonus to drying: Strings of peppers and bunches of herbs are a nice decorative touch for the kitchen.

Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith loves the fragrance and taste of basil, and she grows it all over her yard and garden beds. Some of her sweet basil plants are huge bushes — bigger than any I’ve ever seen.

I asked her which seeds she used (surely, magic seeds), and she said she bought her basil seeds at a dollar store. “No need to pay a premium,” she said.

In this week’s Dig In garden video, she shares tips on stringing hot peppers (hint: very carefully) and how to hang basil and lavender without creating a mess.

Peppers

Debbie uses embroidery floss to string her peppers. I’ve never bought embroidery floss (dental floss, yes), and she said any thread or twine that’s hefty enough to hold the weight of peppers is fine. Find a needle with a large eye, and thread it.

When you pick the peppers, be sure you leave a fair amount of stem — that’s what you’re putting the needle through. Put a knot in the string between each pepper to keep them separated. That’s important to help them dry out.

Pro tip: Don’t forget to wear gloves or use a plastic bag on your hands when you handle the habaneros and other very hot peppers.

Once you’ve got a full string, hang it on a hook, preferably a location that’s dry and has good air circulation.

Basil

Clip the flower heads off the basil because they will fall off as they dry. Also, be sure to shake the basil off and/or spray it off with water to knock off any spiders or other insects.

“Oftentimes basil has critters, like little spiders. If you do this later in the day, when it’s warmer, you can accidentally bring a bee inside. And we don’t want to do that,” Debbie said. “So we’re going to make sure we don’t have critters on there.”

Tie the stalks of the basil bunch with a rubber band or other elastic tie (she uses her daughter’s old hair band in the video). Then use a clip of some sort, even a large paper clip, to loop through the rubber band and connect it to a wire hanger.

Debbie hangs her basil inside. She said others hang it in the garage.

“It depends on humidity in your house and heat, but I find that it takes between two and three weeks before the leaves are crunchy,” she said.

Once the leaves are dried, she puts them in a ziplock bag and crushes them. She stores them in plastic bags and glass jars.

Lavender

Lavender buds fall off very easily when they’re dry.

“It’s a pretty messy herb to dry,” Debbie said.

So she recommends that after you tie the bunches, carefully place them in a paper bag. And loop or clip the bag to a hanger.

Lavender might take as long as a month to fully dry.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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