Knowing how to dry your homegrown herbs allows you to get even more out of your herb garden. You can store properly dried herbs can for 6-12 months without any loss in quality, and you can use them to make herbal medicines, soaps, teas, or seasoning blends. There are several methods for drying herbs, so whether you have lots of herbs or just a few leaves, none have to go to waste.
Harvest Your Herbs
Annual herbs such as anise, basil, dill, and summer savory are usually cut at ground level. Perennial herbs such as mint, chives, fennel, and tarragon are normally cut about a third of the way down, gathering the main stem along with the side branches.
- 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. This is when they'll be the most flavorful.
Prepare Herbs for Drying
Once you've harvested the herbs you wish to dry, you need to prepare them. This step is important for any dry herb process since you don't want to let freshly cut herbs lie around, especially not in the sun. Sun-dried herbs will lose much of their flavor from the bleaching of the sun.
- Gently wash the herbs under cold running water.
- Shake the water from the herbs very gently so as not to bruise the plants.
- You can hang them upside down to dry off or place on a paper towel to blot the remaining moisture.
- Once dry, separate the leaves and flowers from the stems if you like.
- Discard any damaged leaves, flowers, or stems. Use the best quality herbs for the best results.
How to Dry Herbs in a Dehydrator
The easiest, quickest way to dry herbs is with a dehydrator. Drying herbs with a dehydrator ensures you end up with the highest quality possible since you can control the air circulation and temperature. These two factors determine the quality of your dried herbs. You'll need an electric dehydrator with a maximum temperature setting of 125°F for high humidity regions.
- Set the dehydrator temperature between 95°F to 115°F. If humidity is an issue in your region, bump the temperature up to 125°F.
- Spread prepared herbs onto the drying racks, making sure all the plants lie flat on the surface and aren't overlapping.
- Set a timer for one hour.
- Check the herbs to see if they're dry. If the stems bend, then they aren't fully dry yet. Return them to the dehydrator for another 30 minutes.
- Check again and repeat timed drying until the stems break easily and the leaves and flowers crumble.
Air Dry Herbs in a Paper Bag
You may prefer air drying for herbs with strong stems, such as rosemary or sage. These herbs are not as delicate or tender like mint or basil. The method requires a warm, dry area with good air circulation. You will need some type of wire or clothesline.
- Lunch-size paper bags
- Clothesline or a portable clothes drying rack.
- Gather prepared herbs into bunches.
- Cut about 8" to 12" length, depending on size and thickness of stems.
- Wrap the twine around the stems, close to the foliage, and secure by tying the two ends together.
- Place each bunch inside its own paper bag so the herbs are upside down.
- Fold the top of each bag over.
- Poke a few holes in the paper bag to allow for good air circulation.
- Use clothespins to hang the bags on a line in a warm, dark, 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°F and 80°F.
- The leaves will be dry in about one to two weeks.
Instructions if Leaves and Flowers Are Removed
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.
- Keep them in a warm, dark area until they have dried completely.
Dry Herbs in Your Oven
You can also dry herbs in an oven. Many people prefer this method because it is faster, you don't need to buy any special equipment, and it also protects your herbs from mold and bugs.
- Cookie sheet
- Paper towel (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180°F.
- Spread a layer of paper towels onto the cookie sheet.
- Spread the leaves out onto the paper towel. Leaves shouldn't touch.
- You can use a single layer or add another layer of paper towel and leaves (up to three or four layers).
- 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.
Dry Herbs in a Microwave
Microwaving provides an even faster way to dry herbs. Keep in mind, you don't want to cook the herbs, you just want to dry them for storage and future use. This method requires a bit of attention and careful monitoring, because delicate herbs can go from "dry" to "burned" before you know it.
- Paper plates (plain, not wax coated)
- Spread the herbs onto 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 intervals, checking the leaves to see how dry they are.
- Depending on the size of the particular herbs you're drying, they should dry properly in one to three minutes.
How to Store Your Dried Herbs
You want to store your dried herbs properly to preserve the flavor and color. You can store your herbs either whole or crushed.
Some herbalists crumble the herbs after drying and then store them. However, other herbalists feel this can cause the herbs to degrade much faster. It's often recommended to keep herbs whole until you're ready to use them. Try both ways to see which method works best for your needs.
Seeds, such as fennel or dill seeds you've harvested, should always be stored whole and crushed prior to using.
Select an Air-Tight Container
Dried leaves need to be stored in air-tight containers. Canning jars work well, but opaque jars are even better since they don't 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.
Best Herbs to Dry
While fresh herbs are a culinary favorite, dried herbs allow all those wonderful herbal flavors to be preserved for winter use and beyond. Another reason to dry your herbs is the delicious fact that dried herbs are two to three times more flavorful and potent than fresh herbs. You can dry any herb, but some of the most commonly dried herbs include:
- Bay leaf
- Fenugreek leaves
- Lemon balm
Dried Herbs Become Cherished Culinary Treasures
Properly stored, whole herbs can last for up to one to three years, while ground herbs can last a year or more before losing potency. When you're ready to use them, they'll be waiting there for you to make wonderful herbal teas, enhance your recipes, or create your favorite home remedies and beauty products. Once you've successfully dried your first bunch of herbs, you'll never want to go back to store-bought ones.