It’s a wonderful thing to step out into your garden to harvest handfuls of basil, rosemary, and oregano. During the summer months, folks tend to prepare lighter and fresher meals with fewer stews and soups. As a result, the need for dried herbs becomes less. Tomatoes with fresh basil, cucumbers, and newly cut dill, and salads garnished with aromatic tarragon are more likely on the menu.
However, as summer fades into autumn, our garden herb plants retreat into hibernation. And, though we will miss the freshness of those cut leaves, our pantries can be stocked with dried herbs to see us through the colder months.
There are a few different ways to dry fresh herbs that help to lock away not only the desired flavors and aromas but also important medicinal properties, too.
Herbs can be harvested and dried to store for use as teas or for culinary purposes. Dried herbs become much more concentrated in flavor than their fresh counterpart, so be mindful when using the dried variation. You will need a lot less dried herb than you would fresh for the same intensity of flavor.
When Is the Best Time to Harvest Herbs for Drying?
You want to harvest your herbs when they are at their prime. Never pick leaves that are chewed by bugs, or look brown or old in any way. Try to head to your garden in the early morning before the sun is blazing down on them, but after most of the dew has dried off. At this time, the essential oils in the plant are mostly present in the whole plant and not hiding below in the roots and stems.
It is better to harvest whole stems rather than taking individual leaves. This is especially true if you are going for a hanging method of drying.
While you are harvesting, do your best to handle the leaves gently. You do not want to crush or bruise the leaves as this can cause discoloration and loss of those highly prized essential oils.
Method #1: Hanging Herbs to Dry
Once you have your herbs clean and dry, take a few stems and tie them together at the ends with some twine or string. You will be hanging the stems upside down. Do not gather too many stems together as there needs to be space for air to flow through the leaves or flowers. You need to then hang your bundles in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. Overheating your drying herbs can cause loss of color, flavor, and depletion in medicinal properties.
Keep checking on your herbs every few days, and make sure that there is no mold or mildew growing. If there is, throw them out and start over. Once the leaves are crisp to the touch and easily break away from the stem, your herbs are sufficiently dried.
Method #2: Brown Paper Bag
Take an old brown paper bag and gently fill it with your herbs. You should not overstuff your bag, again, making sure there is air between the stems and leaves. Fold the top of the bag over and store it in a warm and dry place. You will still need to check on your herbs to make sure that there is no mold growing. Do the ‘crisp test‘ to know that your herbs are dried enough.
Method#3: Drying by Dehydrator
Using a dehydrator is best when you live in a humid place as the temperature can be controlled. Set your dehydrator to about 95-115 degrees F, and dry your herbs for 1-4 hours. The type of herbs you are using will adjust how long they need to dry. Keep checking on your herbs as they dry and bring them out once they are crisp.
Does Oven-Drying Work?
Though you might see articles on using your oven or microwave as an option for drying herbs, this is not really desirable. Even the lowest setting of an oven is too hot. Though you will get crunchy, crispy herbs, the heat will have depleted much of their flavor and nutritional and medicinal properties.
Other Things to Note
- Different herbs come with varying water contents. Think about the difference between the more succulent herbs such as Italian basil, the mint family, tarragon, and oregano versus the shrubbier more hardy herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme. The more succulent herbs are much more prone to molding while drying due to their higher water content, so pay extra attention to those.
- Make sure that your herbs are completely dry before storing them. If there is any moisture left in the plants, they will mold when in storage.
- Store your herbs in clean and dry sealed jars or bags. Keep them in a cool, dark place.
- How to Make Your Own Herb-Infused Oil and Vinegar
- A Guide to Dehydrating Your Summertime Herbs and Greens
- 5 Medicinal Herbs to Grow in Pots
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