Drying fresh herbs is one of the best ways to preserve your organic herbs when they are ready for harvest. Fresh herbs from your garden are a great way to add extra zest to foods, but the next best thing is using dried herbs. Growing and drying your own is better and cheaper than buying them from the store.
You may also want to dry your herbs for medicinal use or to make your favorite teas later on in the winter. Learning how to dry fresh herbs is an important herbal art if you want to make use of them all year round.
There are many techniques that can be used for the drying process. Here are some common options for drying herbs that will help you preserve the best flavor and oils.
Preparation for Drying Fresh Herbs
It’s important to harvest and clean fresh herbs correctly in order to get the most out of the dried crop.
Harvest herbs at their peak – When are herbs at their best tasting and most potent as far as oil is concerned? It occurs when they are getting ready to bloom. You will notice several buds but none will be open yet. Wait until after the morning dew has dried before cutting your leaves.
Carefully select your leaves – Look for healthy branches that are free from disease, damage or yellowing. Also, remove any insects that might tag along on the plants. This usually isn’t a problem for indoor herbal gardens, but take more care when harvesting herbs from outdoor gardens.
Wash your leaves – Remove any dirt and soil from the leaves. Use cool water and then dry with a paper towel, taking care not to rip or tear the leaves. Wet herbs will mold so make sure they are completely dry.
Common Methods for Drying Herbs
There are a variety of ways to dry fresh herbs and all gardeners have their favorites. Some methods include using a microwave, dehydrator or other techniques. Here’s four of the most common ways to dry herbs that are easy and effective.
Bunching – Remove all leaves from the bottom of about four to eight stems. Bind them together gently with a rubber band or a piece of string. Place them in paper bags to protect from dust, mold and debris. Hang until dried.
Image Credit: Vegetable Gardener
This method of drying is better for herbs that contain less essential oils and for climates that have less humidity.
Tray drying – This drying technique is for leaves only. Remove the stems and the stalks from leaves. Place the leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet or a drying tray. Large leaves can be cut into smaller pieces. Place in a warm area that is dark until drying is complete.
Drying in an oven – Preheat your oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the oven temperature below 200 degrees Fahrenheit or your herbs will bake not dry.
Spread leaves on a baking sheet and place on middle rack of oven. Be sure to leave the oven door cracked open the whole time to allow for air circulation during drying. This will help prevent the herbs from being baked rather than dried.
The amount of time it takes to dry herbs depends on the amount of essential oils each herb has as well as the general humidity of your climate. For instance, oregano and thyme may take over an hour to thoroughly dry because they have more essential oils than some other herbs. Generally, however, it will take about 30 minutes to dry most herbs.
The best thing to do is to check your herbs every 15 minutes to monitor how well they are drying. To test an herb, remove a sprig and crush it in your hand. If it is crumbly, it is well dried.
Oven drying is often preferred over most other methods including using a dehydrator which is slower and produces less heat.
Solar drying – This is not a very efficient method but may work for people who live in a very warm area. Place your leaves on a drying tray or an old window pane in the sun. In order for this to work, the temperature needs to be constant with low humidity (below 100 degrees F and 60% humidity). Avoid direct sunlight because leaves will fade.
After drying fresh herbs, store them in airtight jars in a dry, dark place for up to one year. Repeat this process each year for fresh, potent dried herbs for all your home herbal needs.