Drying herbs is something any home cook, gardener or DIY enthusiast should have in their arsenal. You’ll save money and reduce waste, of course, but you’ll also have herbs with much more flavor than anything you can buy at the store. After all, dried herbs don’t last forever, and you never know how long those jars have been sitting on the shelf.
What’s more, drying your own herbs is easy and painless — as long as you know what you’re doing. Different herbs require different techniques; some popular herbs don’t usually take well to traditional methods of drying at all. No matter how long you hang basil upside down, for instance, it’s not going to be take on the same consistency as the stuff you can buy at the store. But there are ways to dry basil, and other herbs like it, properly.
Drying Herbs: The Basics
No matter what drying method you are using, there are a few basic steps that need to be followed.
1. If you are harvesting herbs directly from your garden, make sure to pick them at their peak, when their flavor is the strongest. For most herbs, that means when the buds have just appeared, but are not fully open yet.
2. The best, and only, herbs you should dry are fresh herbs. Remove any yellowed, dried or otherwise unhealthy looking leaves.
3. Clean your herbs before drying them. Run the stems under cool, running water, removing any dirt or bugs, and pat dry thoroughly with a paper towel. Herbs should be totally, completely dry before you start the drying process.
Check out the next page for tips on drying out many different kinds of herbs.
Good For: Marjoram, lavender, chives, sage, oregano, rosemary, mint, catnip, lemon balm.
Method: Tie 5-8 stems together in a bundle, and place bundle in a paper bag, stems extending out from the opening. Hang the bag in a dark, warm place with good air circulation. The temperature should be about 70-80 degrees F. Let dry for two to four weeks, checking periodically to make sure the bundle hasn’t come loose.
Good For: Basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, rosemary.
Method: Remove stalks and stems. Handle leaves gently, and cut large leaves into small pieces. Place on a drying tray, old window screen or baking sheet. If you’re stacking trays, place a spacer in between each try so the herbs have air circulation. Place in a warm, dark area and stir daily until thoroughly dried.
Good For: Basil, bay leaves, mint, sage.
Method: This works best for gas ovens. On a baking sheet, arrange individual leaves so that no leaves are touching. If you have enough for more layers, place a paper towel between each. Do not turn on the oven. Leave overnight.
Other Drying Methods
Dehydrator. If you own a food dehydrator, this is your best option.
Solar Drying. Though it can be done, you need to have the right conditions and, for most of us, just isn’t worth it. Only use the sun if you live in a warm (but not too warm), dry place — days with a temperature lower than 100 degrees F and with humidity lower than 60 percent. Do not place in direct sunlight, because their color and flavor will fade.
Microwave. Though quick and easy, the quality of your herbs will suffer tremendously in the microwave.
Storing Home-Dried Herbs
After your herbs have dried, look for mold and discard any leaves with mold growing on them. Crumble them if needed and store in an airtight jar. Store in a cool, dry place, so they will keep their flavor for as long as possible. Of course they look prettier on the counter, but they keep longest in the cupboard. Use within one year — write the expiration date on the container.
Other Ways to Preserve Herbs
Freezing. Freezing delicate herbs like basil, chives and parsley is a fantastic way to preserve their fresh flavor. Puree herbs with a little water in the blender, pour into ice cube trays and freeze. You can move the frozen cubes to a freezer bag for later use.
Herb Vinegar. Place fresh herbs in a lidded jar and cover with white vinegar. Seal well and let steep for 4-6 weeks in a cool, dry place.
Herb Oil. Not recommended, unless you want botulism. You don’t, trust us.
Herb Butter. Delicious, and so many great variations — a good alternative to unsafe-at-home herb oils.
Fresh Tomato-Basil Soup