Summer is speedily drawing to a close and it is getting to be that time of the year when we dry herbs. Normally, fresh herbs are great to keep around for cooking and if you have a sunny window you can always make a nice little herb pot to keep growing indoors. However, fresh herbs don’t last forever and in order to get the most out of our herbs we need to preserve them in some way. Luckily, drying herbs is almost as easy as growing them. After the jump, find out how to dry herbs easily.
Different herbs require different methods of drying. Basil is a common herb that should not be dried. Instead, make some pesto with your basil and freeze it in a freezer-safe container. This will usually keep the basil for about a year. I don’t have a dehydrator to dry my herbs, but if you have one, use it!
Herbs are put into two different categories: tender and less tender. Tender herbs tend (ha!) to be herbs like oregano, mint and lemon balm. Usually these are herbs that don’t overwinter well (although I’ve never had a problem with mint). Less tender herbs are herbs like sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender and other sturdy herbs. Both of these types herbs can be dried easily but with less tender herbs you will want to dry them in a paper bag when hanging them (more details below). I used a method to dry my herbs that I found on the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Step 1: Collect and wash your herbs
The best time to collect herbs for drying is right before they start to flower. Herbs that have already flowered will have lost a lot of their flavor. Pick your herbs on a mild day or during the morning. I always use clean and sharp shears to pick and prune my plants because it promotes good plant health. Once you have picked them, wash them gently and lay them out to dry (Fig. 1). You can also blot the herbs with a paper towel to remove any moisture. You will want to make sure that your herbs are completely dry before you start actually drying them. If they are wet they might promote mold and that sure isn’t tasty.
Step 2: Decide on your method of drying
The most common way to dry herbs is to collect them into bunches, tie them with twine and hang them indoors in a well-ventilated area. Try to pick a spot that isn’t too sunny. If you are going to dry tender herbs, cover the hanging bundles of herbs with a paper bag with some holes poked in it. This will protect the tender herbs and promote good flavor. This method can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to dry your herbs.
Another method of drying herbs–and the method I used for this tricolor sage–is to pick each leaf off individually and dry them between sheets of paper towel in a turned off and cool oven (Fig. 2). This is the best way to dry if you live in humid areas or if you want to maintain the herb’s flat shape. This works best for sage, mint and bay. This method took 11 days to fully dry all of the herbs.
Herbs are done drying once you can easily crumble the herbs between your fingers. Don’t take any risks and store herbs that you don’t think are quite done drying: herbs that aren’t fully dry will get moldy.
Step 3: Store and enjoy!
Once your herbs are dried they are ready to store. Put them in old spice jars or in another air-tight container and keep them away from the sun. Dried herbs are much more potent than fresh herbs, so adjust your recipes that call for fresh herbs accordingly. Home dried herbs also have a lot more flavor than store-bought herbs, not to mention better color, so be careful when using your new herbs.
Dried herbs can be kept for up to a year. Toss out any herbs that have developed mold.