Home grown and dried herbs are the best way to bring the fresh pungent tastes of summer into your winter cooking. Most importantly, home made dried herbs are far tastier than the commercially bought jar products. It is an easy and satisfying activity that requires no more than a roll of string, some rubber bands and a few old jam jars. Culinary herbs that dry well include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and herbs for infusions include mint, lemon verbena, chamomile and lemon balm.

Harvesting herbs:
Most herbs contain pungent oils in their leaves and are at their most concentrated when they are in flower. Harvesting is best done early in the cool of the morning when the leaves are heaviest with oils. Use garden scissors or sharp secateurs to make a clean cut rather than breaking or pulling leaves off the plant. You can harvest up to a third of the plant at a time though don't do this too late in the season as the new growth will too tender for the colder months.

Preparing for Drying:
It’s a good idea to wash the sprigs after you have picked out any yellowed or damaged leaves. Simply swirl the spring around in a bucket of clean cold water and shake dry - or you could give them a spin in the salad spinner.

Choose an area with a good even temperature and plenty of air flow and minimal light - a garage or attic is best (though hot attics will shrivel the leaves too quickly and they'll loose some of their precious oils). Next you'll need to tie the springs into bunches - not too large to allow plenty of airflow around the leaves. Secure each bunch with a rubber band, not string as it will become loose when the herb dries. Run a piece of string across the room like a washing line and hang the bunches upside down over the string. Large leafed herbs like sage can be laid out on an old flyscreen which is suspended or elevated with supports at either end. Drying for both methods can take anything from a few days to a month. You can tell when they are ready by crushing a few leaves in your hands - they are ready when they are crisp and crumbly.

Finally lay out some paper or a dry cloth and gently strip off the leaves from the stems with your hands, taking care not to crush the leaves too much so they'll maintain their flavour. Transfer the dry herbs to old jam jars that have been thoroughly washed and dried. Its best to store them in the back of the cool larder away from the light - some like to have them out on display near the cooker but this is counter productive as they'll loose their flavour quicker - even if they do look good. After a few days, check to see if there is any condensation on the inside of the jar. If so then lay out the herbs on some dry paper for a while longer and re-jar them them. Most herbs will retain their flavour for around one year - that's if you haven't consumed them before then !!