t is very important to those who are not in the constant habit of attending the markets to know when the various seasons are for purchasing sweet herbs.
Take care that they are gathered on a dry day, by which means they will have a better color when dried. Cleanse your herbs well from dirt and dust;* cut off the roots; separate the bunches into smaller ones and dry them by the heat of a stove, or a Dutch oven before a common fire, in such quantities at a time, that the process may be speedily finished. ‘Kill ‘em quick,’ says a great botanist; by this means their flavor will be best preserved. There can be no doubt of the propriety of drying herbs, &c., hastily by the aid of artificial heat, rather than by the heat of the sun. In the application of artificial heat, the only caution requisite is to avoid burning; and of this a sufficient test is afforded by the preservation of the color. The common custom is, when they are perfectly dried, to put them in bags, and lay them in a dry place; but the best way to preserve the flavor of aromatic plants is to pick off the leaves as soon as they are dried, and to pound them, and put them through a hair-sieve, and keep them in well-stopped bottles.**
*This is sadly neglected by those who dry herbs for sale. If you buy them ready dried, before you pound them, cleanse them of dirt and dust by stripping the leaves from the stalks, and rub them between your hands over a hair-sieve; put them into the sieve, and shake them well, and the dust will go through.
** The common custom is to put them into paper bags, and lay them on a shelf in the kitchen, exposed to all the fumes, steam and smoke, &c.; thus they soon lose their flavor.
From The Cook’s Oracle by William Kitchiner, MD, New York, 1829
Comment: Dr. Kitchiner’s writing style frequently involves footnotes, addenda, memoranda, “N.B”s and so many other items tacked on at the end that the additions are sometimes longer than the basic recipe itself. We approach that status here. That said, we include it all because it’s all perfectly true and correct, today as it was then and ever shall be. While he refers to herbs intended for use in cooking, as increasing numbers of people grow and gather herbs for medicinal purposes the same rules apply to that practice.
A “hair sieve” is not a strainer made of hair (ugh!) but simply a very fine mesh similar in size to that which is used in a common flour sifter. Kitchens were presumed to include a range of straining utensils from the very coarse (colander, or “cullender” as it was frequently spelled in the period) to the very fine.
Besides “hair sieve,” another term for a very fine strainer was a “tamis” although we have not been able to determine if there is any real difference in structure or composition of the two or if they are just different words for the same thing. Research is a never-ending process in the culinary history biz.