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Mindful Cooking with Herbs: A Sensory Journey

The heady scent of herbs filled the air as I ran my fingers through their fragrant leaves.  Look closely – see the oregano bravely holding its own in the corner? My raised bed might not be big enough for a mint bath (a girl can dream!), but the vibrant green mint is still a feast for the senses.


Cooking with herbs can be more than just following a recipe – it can be a full-sensory experience that nourishes both body and soul. Here's how to turn your kitchen into a mindfulness haven:

  1. Engage Your Senses:

  • Sight: Admire the vibrant colors and unique shapes of fresh herbs. Notice how their appearance changes as they dry.

  • Touch: Feel the delicate textures of fresh herbs. Notice how they become more brittle when dried. Crumble them between your fingers and release their aroma.

  • Smell: Inhale the captivating scents of your herbs. Notice the subtle differences between fresh and dried varieties.

  • Taste: Sample your herbs raw and cooked. Pay attention to the nuanced flavors they bring to your dishes.

  • Sound: When crushing dried herbs, hear the crackle, or when chopping fresh herbs, listen to the delicate sound of the blade slicing through the leaves.

  1. Slow Down: Don't rush through the process. Take your time to chop, mince, and blend your herbs with intention. Each step is an opportunity to connect with the ingredients.

  2. Be Present: As you cook, focus on the present moment. Notice the sounds of chopping, the aromas that fill your kitchen, and the warmth of the stove. Let go of worries or distractions and simply be in the experience.

  3. Experiment and Play: Don't be afraid to try new herb combinations or experiment with different amounts. Let your intuition guide you, and have fun discovering new flavor pairings.

  4. Gratitude: Before enjoying your meal, take a moment to appreciate the nourishment and joy that herbs bring to your table. Acknowledge the effort that went into growing and preparing your ingredients.


Tips for Mindful Herb Use:

  • Start a Herb Garden: Growing your own herbs deepens your connection to the ingredients and provides a calming activity. This can be done in a planter or directly in the ground.

  • Focus on Freshness: Use fresh herbs whenever possible for their vibrant flavors and aromas.

  • Dry with Intention: If you dry your own herbs, make it a mindful process by paying attention to the colors, textures, and scents as they transform.

  • Create a Ritual: Designate a special space for herb preparation, and incorporate calming rituals like lighting a candle or playing soothing music.

By embracing a mindful approach to cooking with herbs, you'll not only create delicious and nourishing meals, but also cultivate a deeper appreciation for the natural world and a greater sense of peace in your kitchen.


  • Air Drying: The simplest method, perfect for herbs with low moisture content (e.g., thyme, rosemary, sage). These can be bundled and hung until dried. I like to then remove the leaves from the stems. Leaves can be left whole or crushed. 

  • Dehydrator: Great for herbs with higher moisture (e.g., basil, mint) and for fruits and vegetables. 

  • Oven Drying: A backup option when other methods aren't feasible. Place herbs in a single layer on a parchment lined sheet tray. Use the lowest heat setting and keep the oven door ajar. Beyond Drying: Creative Preservation: Mix your favorite herbs into any of the above for a delicious addition to your cooking or as a gift!

  • Herbal Salts & Sugars

  • Herbal Oils & Vinegars

  • Herbal Teas/Tisanes

  • Herbal Butters & Cream Cheese


Mint

  • Fresh: Bright, cool, and refreshing aroma. The flavor is intensely sweet with a menthol-like coolness. Texture is soft and delicate.

  • Dried: Aroma becomes slightly subdued but remains recognizable. Flavor intensifies, becoming sweeter and more concentrated, with a stronger menthol note. Texture becomes brittle and crumbly.

  • Best for Drying: Peppermint, spearmint

Thyme

  • Fresh: Warm, earthy aroma with hints of lemon and mint. Flavor is savory, slightly minty, and a bit peppery. Texture is small, delicate leaves.

  • Dried: Aroma intensifies, becoming more concentrated and lemony. Flavor also concentrates, becoming more pungent and earthy. Texture becomes dry and brittle.

  • Best for Drying: Common thyme, lemon thyme

Oregano

  • Fresh: Pungent, earthy, slightly sweet aroma. Flavor is bold, savory, with peppery and slightly bitter notes. Texture is slightly fuzzy leaves.

  • Dried: Aroma mellows slightly but remains strong and earthy. Flavor intensifies, becoming more pungent and peppery. Texture becomes brittle and easily crumbled.

  • Best for Drying: Greek oregano, Italian oregano

Other Herbs Well-Suited for Drying:

  • Rosemary:

  • Fresh: Intensely piney and woody aroma. Flavor is strong, resinous, and slightly lemony. Texture is tough and needle-like.

  • Dried: Aroma and flavor both concentrate, becoming more pungent and earthy. Texture becomes brittle and slightly less sharp.

  • Sage:

  • Fresh: Strong, earthy, slightly peppery aroma. Flavor is warm, savory, and slightly bitter. Texture is slightly fuzzy leaves.

  • Dried: Aroma and flavor mellow slightly, becoming more earthy and complex. Texture becomes brittle and easily crumbled.

  • Lavender:

  • Fresh: Floral, sweet aroma with hints of citrus. Flavor is mildly sweet, floral, and slightly bitter. Texture is soft and delicate.

  • Dried: Aroma intensifies and becomes more complex, with notes of wood and herbs emerging. Flavor becomes more concentrated and slightly less sweet. Texture becomes dry and brittle.

Key Differences Between Fresh and Dried Herbs

  • Flavor Intensity: Dried herbs typically have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs. This is because the drying process removes water, leaving behind the essential oils and flavor compounds.

  • Texture: Fresh herbs are soft and pliable, while dried herbs are brittle and easily crumble.

  • Aroma: The aroma of dried herbs can be either stronger or more subdued than fresh herbs, depending on the specific herb and drying method.

  • Uses: Fresh herbs are best used towards the end of cooking to preserve their delicate flavors, while dried herbs can be added earlier in the cooking process to infuse dishes with their concentrated flavors.

Store completely dried herbs in an airtight container, in a cool, dry and dark place.


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