Do you have a bumper crop of fresh herbs in your herb garden? Drying your herbs is a simple way to minimize waste and keep that flavor in your favorite recipes for months to come.
Drying is the simplest and easiest method of preserving fresh-grown herbs and edible flowers. All that’s needed is warm, dry air and to leave the herbs alone until all the moisture evaporates. It’s easy to do and can be done even without a food dehydrator.
Home drying versus store-bought
When you grow your own herbs, you know that they’re fresh and healthy because you get to see them growing right before your eyes. There’s no guarantee with store-bought herbs, they’ve likely been sitting around a while before they’re added to your grocery basket.
Growing herbs at home is easy, fun, and affordable. If you save the seeds, you can plant them again for years to come. One bottle of herbs? Around $3-5. One plant? Same cost, but will yield for years to come. You do the math.
Should you dry herbs in the sun?
Sun drying is not the best method because it can cause them to lose their color and flavor.
What herbs dry well?
Basil, sage, cilantro, mint and rosemary have larger solid leaves and don’t require much maintenance or patience to process. Tarragon, thyme and dill require a little bit more care to remove the small leaves from the stems. Some herbs have a higher moisture content and this makes them more prone to mold. But you can dry any herb you want! Just make sure that you label them well as once they’re dried many of them tend to look the same.
Preparing your herbs to dry.
Gather your herbs in the morning after the dew has evaporated off. Be gentle when gathering your herbs so that you don’t bruise the leaves. Rinse your herbs in cool water and shake to remove the excess water. You should discard any bruised or imperfect leaves and stems.
What are the best methods of drying herbs without a dehydrator?
- Hang Drying
- Drying Rack
- Oven Drying
- Microwave Drying
Hanging your herbs to dry at room temperature is the easiest and most well-known way. To dry your herbs first tie them in small bundles or secure them with a rubber band and then hang them in an area with plenty of air circulation to dry. Rosemary, sage, time, summer savory, and parsley all dry very well with this method.
Some herbs have a higher moisture content in the leaves and benefit by placing smaller bundles of herbs inside a paper bag that has has holes punched in the sides to create airflow before hanging. Basil, mint, lemon balm and oregano dry well with this method.
I like repurposing cheap clothing hangers with pinch ends to hang herbs. Just put your herbs in one of the pinch ends and hang until dry!
You can purchase special mutli-layer mesh drying racks to dry herbs or you make your own drying racks by repurposing baking cooling racks or oven crisper trays.
To use a cooling rack as a drying rack, cover your cooling rack with a layer of paper towels or a lightweight flour sack towel. Place the herbs in a thin layer on the paper towels. Place another layer of paper towel over the herbs. Let this sit until the herbs are dry and crumble easily.
You can use your oven to dry herbs. To do this you need to set your oven on the lowest temperature. For most ovens, this is around 180°. Lay the herbs in a single layer on a tray or even a cooling rack. It’s important that the heat escapes, however, so that you don’t cook the herbs. To ensure this happens you need to leave the door propped open. When I’m drying herbs in the oven, I use a heat proof silicone oven mitt to keep the door propped. This can cause danger if small children are pets are around. Different herbs take different amounts of time to dry, so check them often.
You can dry herbs in the microwave and it’s very quick and easy to do. However, it’s my least favorite method as it requires you to work in very small batches and it’s the most artificial of the methods listed. To dry herbs in the microwave, separate the clean leaves from the stems and pat dry. Microwave the herbs between two layers of paper towel for 1 minute. Check your herbs and if they are not sufficiently dry continue to heat at 30 second intervals until completely dry.
Storing your dried herbs
The best way to store your dried herbs is in small airtight glass jars or plastic containers. Decide if you want your herbs to be whole leaf or crumbled. Some herbs are easiest to simply crush the leaves. Your home-dried herbs should be kept in a cool, dry area away from sunlight to protect the fragrance and color.
Dried herbs are usually about three to four times stronger than fresh herbs. Always make sure to label and date your home dried herbs. They are best used within one year.