How to Dry Herbs
Growing your own herbs is a satisfying and rewarding process. The plants are attractive in your garden, useful in your home and interesting to know. One of the delights of herb gardening comes at harvest time. But for most herbs, you do not have to wait for the perfect moment. You can harvest the fresh leaves of many culinary herbs at any time during the growing season. The best way to have the flavor and fragrance of herbs during the winter months is to dry them. Some herbs such as sage, rosemary, bay, spearmint, lovage, thyme, marjoram and oregano, dry well and retain their full flavor. In fact, some cooks prefer dried oregano to fresh. Home dried herbs will be much higher quality than commercial ones, not to mention you will get the most satisfying feeling when you use your own.
Drying for the Kitchen
- Gather your herbs. Wash them thoroughly. Blot dry with paper towels or roll them in terry towels and dry on “spin” in your washing machine.
- Cuttings with tiny leaves (thyme) may be dried on stems and then stripped. For plants with larger leaves (basil), strip or cut leaves from stems. I try to be gentle when I remove the leaves from the plant as not to bruise them. Bruising the leaves will cause the leaves to turn dark. You want your leaves to dry green in color.
- Place leaves or cuttings on screens or trays in a warm place out of direct sunlight. A screened porch, attic or dark air conditioned room is ideal. Drying can be done in a closed car on a warm day. You may also put your herbs in an oven on the lowest possible setting with the door ajar.
- Make sure the leaves are crisp, crackly dry. If you put herbs which are not totally dry in their storage container, they will mold. For air drying, it usually takes seven to fourteen days. For oven/car drying, a few hours.
- I keep small jars from products I buy at the grocery store to store my herbs, i.e. pimento jar, etc. This is also a great way to recycle. The jars should be airtight and stored away from light. I keep my herbs in large chunks. Crumble the leaves as you use them. Enjoy!
- Gather your herbs and/or flowers on long stems. They should be gathered in the morning after the dew has dried and before the sun has become too intense.
- Arrange them as you want them to dry. When the herbs dry they shrink considerably, so make your bundles four times the size you ultimately want. Tie a string around the stems or preferably, tie a rubber band around the stems. As the bundles dry, the rubber band conforms to the size of the stem.
- Hang your bundles upside down in a closet, attic or some dry warm place where they will be undisturbed.
- After several weeks, if you wish, tie a decorative raffia bow around the stems. Put your bundle in a vase in the kitchen, bathroom or anywhere you choose for decoration as well as the opportunity to enjoy the wonderful fragrance. I always hang a bundle by my stove so that I can pinch as I need while cooking. Herb bundles also make great personalized gifts. For gifts, I place the bundles in a large plastic zip lock bag to preserve the freshness and fragrance.