It can be incredibly satisfying to use your own home grown herbs to create herbal medicines, soaps, teas or tasty seasoning blends for your favorite dishes. You just need to know how to dry them, and this isn't a difficult skill to master. Just follow this easy guide, and you'll be an expert in no time.
Harvesting and Preparing Your Herbs
Annual herbs such as anise, basil, dill and summer savory are usually cut at ground level. Perennial herbs like mint, chives, fennel and tarragon are normally cut about a third of the way down, gathering the main stem along with the side branches.
To harvest your herbs, follow these steps:
- Wait until your herbs are just about ready to flower before you cut them. This is when they'll have the best flavor.
- Harvest them while they are at their peak, typically during the early morning hours.
- Cut them while they're still damp with dew and before the sun has caused them to droop.
After harvesting, be sure to do the following:
- Gently wash the herbs under cold running water.
- Hang them upside down in the sun to dry off the water from washing.
- Once they are dry, separate the leaves and flowers from the stems if you like.
How to Dry Herbs Yourself
Once your herbs have been prepared, they are ready to dry. There is more than one method for effectively drying herbs.
For herbs that have high moisture content, try this method:
- Gather the herbs in bunches.
- Place each bunch inside its own paper bag so the herbs are upside down.
- Fold the top of each bag over.
- Use clothespins to hang the bags on a line in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area, taking care to space them out so the air can circulate around them.
- Keep the temperature in the drying area between 70 and 80 degrees.
- The leaves will be dry in about one to two weeks.
If you have already removed the leaves and flowers during prep, you can try this method for air drying:
- Spread the individual pieces on a screen or cheesecloth.
- Make sure they don't touch each other in order to provide maximum air circulation.
- Keep them in a dark, warm area until they have dried completely.
You can also dry your herbs in an oven. Many people prefer this method because it is faster, and it also protects your herbs from mold and bugs.
To oven dry your herbs, follow these steps:
- Preheat the oven to 180 F.
- Spread the leaves out on a cookie sheet.
- Place the sheet in the oven.
- Check the leaves periodically to prevent them from over drying.
- They should be completely dry within two to four hours, depending on their original water content.
Microwaving provides an even faster way of drying herbs. Keep in mind, you don't want to cook the herbs, you just want to dry them for storage and future use.
Follow these steps to dry your herbs in your microwave:
- Spread the herbs on a paper plate.
- Microwave them for 30 seconds on high.
- Check the herbs to see how dry they are, and turn them over or stir them a bit.
- Continue microwaving in 30-second increments, checking the leaves to see how dry they are.
- Depending on the size of the particular herbs you're working with, they should dry properly in one to three minutes.
Storing Your Dried Herbs
Crushed or Whole?
Once you have learned how to dry herbs, you want to preserve your good work by storing them properly. Some herbalists crumble the herbs after drying, and then store them. However, many others feel that this causes the herbs to degrade much faster, and they recommend keeping them whole until you're ready to use them.
You can try both ways if you like and see which method works best for your needs. Seeds, however, should always be stored whole and crushed just prior to use.
Selecting a Container
Dried leaves need to be stored in air-tight containers. Canning jars work well, but opaque jars are even better because they do not allow sunlight to degrade the herbs.
Wood, paper or plastic containers are not recommended for long-term storage because they can absorb the oils and scent of the herbs stored in them.
Check Frequently During the First Week
When you first place the herbs into their jars, check them every day for about a week to make sure there is no remaining moisture that may cause mold. Moisture will form on the inside of closed jars if the herbs are not thoroughly dried.
If you see moisture, immediately remove the herbs and repeat the drying method that you used prior to storage. When the herbs are completely dry, store them once more in dry jars in a cool, dry, dark place.
Properly stored, whole herbs can last for up to a year, and ground herbs can last for three to six months. When you're ready to use them, they'll be waiting there for you to make wonderful teas, enhance your recipes, and create your favorite home remedies and beauty products. So don't feel intimidated by the drying process. Once you've successfully dried your first set of herbs, you'll never want to go back to store bought again.