Herbs are easy-to-grow perennials that serve many culinary and medicinal purposes. Drying them helps you hold on to your harvest and reap the benefits in the long term. You’ll know exactly where and how your herbs have grown and been processed, and you can’t beat the price.
Different drying methods yield the best results for different herbs. Once you understand the optimal steps, you’ll be amazed by how easy it is to build up your own home-grown dried herb stash.
Drying herbs helps ensure that you’ll have an ample store of your favorite flavors within reach throughout the year. Removing moisture also reduces the risk of contamination from bacteria and mold. Drying out herbs can intensify the taste and efficacy of some herbs, as well. Home-dried herbs are easy to combine for custom flavoring. They also make great herbal teas for refreshment and therapeutic uses.
If you’re growing herbs organically, you typically won’t need to wash them. Harvest in the morning after the dew has dried. Around this time, the plants’ essential oils are still concentrated in the leaves. Further, the heat from the sun hasn’t caused the oils to be released into the air yet. Remove dead, wilted, or diseased leaves.
While sunlight is necessary for herbs to grow, it can damage the leaves once the branches are cut. Sun drying can cause the herbs to burn, negatively affecting their flavor, color, and potency. Many expert gardeners discourage solar drying herbs, and those that recommend the method often advise avoiding too much direct sunlight.
Air drying is the most economical method to dry herbs. It is ideal for small batches of sturdy, low-moisture herbs such as:
Tie five to ten branches together with a rubber band, twist-tie, or string and hang upside down in a paper or mesh bag. Tie the opening closed and poke a few holes to let air in. Hang the bag in a warm, well-ventilated indoor area for one to two weeks.
If your herbs are too small to tie together, place them on a cloth or mesh screen drying tray. You can easily and economically make your own with hardware cloth mesh or an old window screen stapled to a picture frame. Place cheesecloth over the screen, then lay your herbs on the cloth to dry. Leave in a well-ventilated area to dry fully, for several hours to a few days.
High-moisture herb leaves might develop mold with air drying. They need to be dried quickly and thoroughly after harvesting. These include:
To oven dry, spread herb leaves on an ungreased cookie sheet in a single layer. Place the sheet in a slightly open oven at less than 180 degrees F for two to four hours. Leaves will crumble easily when dry. Oven drying removes some of the flavor and potency of herbs, so you may need to use more when cooking with them.
Dehydrating requires an initial cost that varies, but the device could pay for itself with time savings and convenience. A food dehydrator works well with most herbs, regardless of moisture content. Many air fryers feature a dehydrator option, as well.
Preheat to between 95 and 115 degrees F while preparing the herbs. Place the herbs in single layers on the dehydrator trays, using each tray for one type. It usually takes one to four hours for herbs to dry this way.
Many people have unwittingly discovered that they can dry their herbs in the fridge. This method has worked for both low-moisture and high-moisture leaves. Simply spread chopped or whole herb leaves on a plate or tray in a frost-free refrigerator. Stir the leaves a few times daily to minimize wilting and hasten drying.
Drying herbs in the microwave can be a bit tricky, but it is a quick way to get the job done. Hearty herbs, including bay leaves, oregano, sage, and thyme, can take the heat this way. More fragile leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley will lose their flavor with this method.
Lay the herbs in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave at 50% power in 30-second increments, turning the leaves over between sessions. Repeat until the herbs are completely dry.
Generally, dried herbs should last one to three years. Leaving them whole and crumbling as you need them may extend their shelf life. Label and store your dried herbs in airtight containers in a dark, cool place. If you’re wondering if your herbs are still good, open your jar to check for an aroma. As long as they smell good, they should be just fine to use. If you don’t smell anything, your herbs have likely lost their flavor, too.
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