Sunday, May 13, 2012

Grinding Dehydrated Herbs and Spices


Basically, herbs are the leaves and stems of certain plants that retain their flavor and add to the taste of food. Generally, fresh herbs are preferable to dried herbs, but we do not live in an ideal world and often need to resort to the dried version.

  • You can stimulate the oils in those leaves to give off their flavor by crushing them between your fingers or grinding them in some way. 
  • However convenient powdered herbs are, they will diminish in flavor in about a year’s time, so it takes more of the herb to do the job.
  • Ideally, you will want to keep your dehydrated herb leaves and stems in fairly large pieces and grind them as needed.

I store my dried herbs in large leaf form whenever possible. They are kept in my kitchen in a nice stainless steel breadbox.  (Found it at the thrift store for $2.)  When my herb bottles are empty, I simply transfer some of the bagged herbs to their bottles.  I grind them as needed.

 Spices, on the other hand, are the seeds, roots, and barks of certain plants that retain their flavor and add to the taste of food. 

  • These seeds, barks and roots are very hard and usually need to be ground in order to extract their flavor.
I’m always thinking in terms of survival situations in which there is no access to electricity. 

Not so far fetched, actually. There have been periods in my life in which I could not afford to pay my electric bill. Where I lived for some twenty years in Alabama, we often had power outages for anywhere from a few hours to a week or more.

 How to deal with this? 

  • Either suffer with all of your neighbors or adjust your lifestyle to live without electricity if necessary.
One very simple thing I do is in regards to my herbs and spices. Yes, I do have an electric grinder, but it isn’t essential. I could just as easily live without it. In fact, I often choose to use a non-electric method of grinding my herbs and spices just because it’s more fun!

 One of the easiest ways is to incorporate pepper mills whenever possible.  I prowl the thrift stores for small working pepper mills and use them for various seeds.  My long-range goal is to have one for each different spice seed.  I’ve seen nifty sets of tiny pepper mills in specialty kitchen shops, but they are waaaay too expensive for my budget!

One of the most ancient methods of grinding seeds is with a mortar and pestle.  There are all sorts of mortar and pestles on the market. But be careful if you buy one!  Like many of the fake coffee mills one used to see sold as decorative items, so are many mortar and pestles. 

  • You need something that is heavy in weight.
  • They come in a variety of sizes ranging from little ¼ cup items to huge monsters that will hold a half a gallon.
    • Think in terms of how much herbs and spices you may need to grind at one time.  Most recipes only call for a few teaspoons or tablespoons of something.
    •  That being said, you need something that is big enough to grind in a circular motion without cramping your hand.
    • Your pestle needs to be big enough to fit comfortably in your hand. 
  • It needs a rather rough textured bowl. A smooth glossy finish will not catch the seeds, they will simply slide around in the thing.
  • One little trick to expedite grinding is to sprinkle a bit of salt in the bowl along with the seeds. Salt has a coarse texture and sharp edges.  It will help cut and grind your seeds to a finer powder.
  • When using your mortar and pestle, don’t forget that you can combine a variety of herbs and spices into a powdered blend. 


 Some spices are quite large and extremely hard. Whole nutmeg is about the size of a marble or small pecan.  It is extremely hard and will destroy the blades on your electric grinder. 

This is a grater especially designed for nutmeg. 

  • It’s sturdy enough to hold firmly with your fingers.
  • The grating edges are pointed and sharp.
  • Simply rub the nutmeg back and forth to produce a fine powder.  It quickly grates the nutmeg down, so generally you only need a few scrapes across the surface.
  • Mine even has a little lidded storage compartment at the top near the hole.  It’s for holding the remainder of the nutmeg you have been grinding.
By the way, freshly ground nutmeg is an aroma wonderful unto itself!  Yum!  Try it and you’ll never go back to that pathetic pre-powdered stuff.


  1. Thanks! I'm always looking for better ways of doing things. Been playing around with things for a long time.