While the herbs from your herb garden are best used fresh, this time of the year there is always more than you can handle. But, there are ways you can make your herb garden last and enjoy the home-grown, summer flavors all year. Read on to learn one of the basic methods: how to dry herbs in a few simple steps. Your own dried herbs will not cost you a dime and will taste better than store-bought because they’ll be newer and more pungent.
If you are interested in preserving foods, dehydrating is the easiest place to jump in. For effective drying, all you need is air circulation and warmth. When herbs are dried, they are safe from bacteria, mold and yeast, and will remain potent for a whole year. It can take a few hours to several days for them to dry fully. Most herbs contain so little moisture that your job is done soon after you’ve harvested them.
What should you dry? Strong leaved herbs tend to be the easiest to deal with. Bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender will usually retain their color and shape without any difficulty. Tender leaved varieties can be a bit trickier. Basil, parsley, mint, tarragon and lemon balm need to be dried quicker to avoid mold.
How to start? Harvest before flowers open. Best time is mid-morning after the dew has dried but before essential oils are burned off by the sun. Washing usually isn’t necessary (if needed, rinse and shake lightly). Remove old, dead, diseased or wilted leaves. Strip large-leaved herbs, such as sage and mint, from their stalks but leave small, feathery herbs like dill, on the stalks until drying is complete.
And now, 3 methods to choose from:
Air drying. Tie stems in bundles. Use rubber bands rather than string, they will tighten around the stems that contract as they dry. Optional: put the bundles in a mesh bag and tie at the neck. Now find a warm, dry spot and hang them upside down. Avoid direct sunlight and humid places such as your kitchen.
Making a drying screen is also a good idea. Any wood frame will do (even a picture frame), just staple cheese cloth or mosquito mesh to it. If you are not feeling savvy in this area, ask your SO to help. There’s a great tutorial over at The Herbal Academy to give you an idea. From here, it’s as low-tech as placing the screen outside until herbs are brittle (bring them in at night).
Oven drying. Not an energy-efficient method, but quicker. Lay out herbs evenly on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Prop door open slightly with a wooden spoon to allow ventilation, set oven on low (below 80°C). It takes 1 to 4 hours for them to dry this way.
Drying using a dehydrator. If you don’t have one yet, it is a very good investment. Most dehydrators have adjustable temperature control mechanisms, a fan to circulate air and multiple stacking trays. Follow your machine’s instructions.
How to store? For best flavor, keep the leaves whole until you are ready to use them, then crush or crumble with your fingers. Keep in labeled, dated airtight containers.
Now you see how effortless drying herbs at home is. I hope you try your hands at it! Be sure to drop by and check the recipes using herbs preserved with this method.
Photo featured in title image by Lucy Akins of Craftberry Bush