How To Dry Herbs

After all the work that went into selecting, planting and growing your herbs the next logical step is preservation. There are several methods to drying your herbs so you can keep a supply of homegrown herbs until next season. The most economical, easiest and most popular method is air drying on screens or in paper bags. Herbs can also be dried in the oven or microwave. Using an electric dehydrate is also an easy route since the cost of dehydrators has come down. Some herbs also dry well in a carefully watched microwave, and others can be frozen easily for later use.

The first step to drying your herbs is harvesting. Pick early in the day after the morning dew has evaporated and before they start to wilt in the afternoon sun. Depending on the time of year or quantity of herbs in my garden, I prefer to keep the herbs connected to branches, unless it is early in the season, then I may just harvest from the lower branches of the plants. The best time to pick is just before the flowers first open this is when the essential oils are at their peak. If you wait until the plants start to flower, you miss the window where the foliage is freshest. It is at this point where the leaves contain the most oils and flavor. Don’t worry if there are some flowers, you can still dry them, and they will still taste better than any bought overly processed herbs.

Clean the herbs to remove any dirt or bugs by rinsing all the foliage under cold water. Pick off any undesirable foliage that has been munched on by bugs or discolored by the sun. If a leaf feels different from the rest of plant, to tough, or leathery discard it. After rinsing dry my placing the herbs on a towel roll the towel up and let it sit awhile to absorb any moisture on the leaves. It is important to get as much moisture off as possible so that you do not develop any mold or rot. At the end of the season when there are a lot of herbs to process a salad spinner is an excellent tool to remove the moisture quickly.
The easiest way to dry herbs are on screens. An old window screen works great; otherwise you can easily make a drying rack cheaply with some ingenuity and a trip to your local hardware store. You can use either window screen material, cheesecloth, or any material that is porous enough to allow air circulation. The process is pretty straight forward; you lay out your herbs on the screen so they are not touching each other, place them in a dry place with little exposure to light, and wait. Flip the material every few days so they dry evenly, and after a week or so they should be ready.

Another proven method involves the use of brown paper bag. Poke a few holes in the sides, and the bottom of a paper bag. Gather a bunch of washed herbs that are still on their branches into bundles of 4 to 6 branches and fasten a twist-tie or rubber band. (As the branches dry, they do shrink and this fastener will need to be periodically tightened.) Take the bundle and place it hanging upside down into the bag. Gather the top of the paper bag around the stems in the bundles and tie it closed with string or a large twist tie. Hang the bag in a warm, dark place with plenty of air movement. If there is limited air movement you can always use a small desk fan. Check the bag after a week to tighten up the fastener on your bundles. Depending on your climate and humidity, they may be ready, or you may need an additional week or two. You can also dry your herbs without the paper bag. The bag method works well because it keeps the material free of bugs and dust, and the paper seems to draw out some of the moisture quicker than just hanging the bunches without the bag.

Drying herbs in the oven can be difficult. The heat can damage the herbs essential oils, and many ovens don’t have a low enough temperature setting to avoid this. If you do attempt to use your oven, keep an eye on it because it is easy to overcook and burn all your hard work. Some herbs, such as sage, can actually ignite under heat so be careful.
Drying herbs in a microwave is quick, simple, and gives excellent results. This is a great method for preserving parsley. Using the microwave however requires constant attention and doesn’t work for all herbs. Place two layers of paper towel in the bottom of the microwave, add a layer of herbs, and cover with two more layers of paper towel. Run the microwave on high for 60-90 seconds and check your herbs for dryness. If they are not done, move the herbs around, run the microwave for 30-60 seconds and check again. Repeat the process until the herbs are dry. WARNING: This process requires careful attention. The paper towels in the microwave can catch fire if hot spots occur.

Dehydrators are also good for drying herbs. Drying time will vary depending on humidity so don’t expect quick results in wet weather or if you have your dehydrator in a damp basement. Follow instructions for your dehydrator regarding temperature settings.
Some herbs freeze well, including tarragon, chives, dill, fennel, and lovage. Simply strip off stems and freeze leaves in zip-lock freezer bags. Basil can be pureed in a food processor or blender with a small amount of olive oil, then frozen in ice cube trays and can be stored freezer bags. Chives can be cut finely and stored frozen in containers.

The easiest way to tell of your herbs are dry enough is to crumble them between your fingers. Depending on your preference, leaves can be stored whole or crumbled. Prepare a work area by laying out some newspapers, I prefer to use a large map, and dump your bags or screens onto it. Remove any stems and unwanted material and crumble your herbs onto this surface. When you are done, fold the paper in half, and it is easy to transfer your dried herbs into an air tight storage container.


Herbs that dry well on screens or using heat:
Apple Mint
Chives – flowers and leaves
Dill – Fernleaf and Big head varieties
Parsley – Italian, flat or curled varieties

Herbs that can be stored frozen:
Herbs that dry hung in bunches or in paper bags:
Lemon Balm