There are various ways how to dry herbs; however, the herbs should always be fresh and clean beforehand. Read on to learn about herb drying methods so you can choose the right one for you.
Hanging Herbs to Dry
Hanging herbs to dry at room temperature is the easiest and least expensive way for how to dry herbs. Remove the lower leaves and bundle four to six branches together, securing with string or a rubber band. Place them upside down in a brown paper bag, with stems protruding and tie closed. Punch small holes along the top for air circulation. Hang the bag in a warm, dark, area for about two to four weeks, checking periodically until the herbs are dry.
This process works best with low moisture herbs like:
- Summer savory
Herbs with high moisture content will mold if not dried quickly. Therefore, if you are going to air dry these types of herbs, make certain the bundles are small and in a well-ventilated area. These herbs include:
- Lemon balm
Oven Drying Herbs
A kitchen oven is often used for drying herbs. Microwave ovens can also be used for quicker drying of herbs. When oven drying herbs, place the leaves or stems on a cookie sheet and warm them about one to two hours with the oven door open at about 180 °F (82 C.). Microwave herbs on a paper towel on high for about one to three minutes, turning them over every 30 seconds.
When drying herbs, microwave ovens should be used as a last resort. While microwave oven drying herbs is faster, this can diminish both oil content and flavor, especially if dried too quickly.
Dry Herbs Using an Electric Dehydrator
Another fast, easy, and effective way how to dry herbs is to dry herbs using an electric dehydrator. Temperature and air circulation can be controlled more easily. Preheat the dehydrator between 95 F. (35 C.) to 115 F. (46 C.) or slightly higher for more humid areas. Place herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays and dry anywhere from one to four hours, checking periodically. Herbs are dry when they crumble, and stems break when bent.
How to Dry Herbs Using Other Methods
Tray drying herbs is another method. This can be done by stacking trays on top of one another and placing in a warm, dark place until the herbs are dry. Likewise, you can remove leaves from the stems and lay them on a paper towel. Cover with another paper towel and continue layering as needed. Dry in a cool oven overnight, using only the oven light.
Drying herbs in silica sand should not be used for edible herbs. This method of drying herbs is best suited for craft purposes. Place a layer of silica sand in the bottom of an old shoebox, arrange herbs on top, and cover them with more silica sand. Place the shoebox in a warm room for about two to four weeks until the herbs are thoroughly dry.
Once herbs are dry, store them in airtight containers that are labeled and dated, as they are best used within a year. Place them in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
Whether you decided to try oven drying herbs, hanging herbs to dry, drying herbs in a microwave or dry herbs using an electric dehydrator, taking the time to do this will help save the flavor of summer for the winter months.
Harvesting Herbs: How to Harvest from Your Herb Garden
One of the most common foods grown in home gardens are herbs. From porch-based bucket gardens to window pots to small garden plots, culinary herbs are a favorite the world over. Most home gardeners grow some type of herb for their kitchen – many grow several.
Some herbs are prized for their leaves, some for their stems, some for both, and still others for seed. How you harvest will depend on the type of herb you’re growing.
How To Harvest Herbs for Maximum Flavor
Harvesting Herbs for Leaves and Stems
Herbs grown for their leaves or stems are best harvested before they begin to flower. Many gardeners trim flowering stalks off their herbs as soon as they appear, hoping to continue harvests. This only works depending on the herb. It may be best to harvest before flowering and then allow the plant to flower (so you can collect seeds) or replace it with a new starter.
Cuts should always be taken in the early morning after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day has begun. If the herb is a perennial, stop harvesting about a month before the killing frost. This way they can harden tender growth and be ready for winter.
Harvesting Herbs for Seeds
For herbs grown for their seeds, most will need you to wait until the seeds are at a specific development point. Most of the time, this is when the seed pods have turned from green to brown to gray. At this point, they should be harvested quickly before they open. They will usually shake or scrape off of the plant.
Harvesting Herbs for Flowers
Herb flowers can be harvested just before full flower if needed for drying or decorative purposes. This is especially true of chamomile. For flowers to be harvested for oil-based flavor, they should be picked when the buds are at their largest but have not opened. Tarragon and lavender can be harvested in the early summer and cut back to half-height to encourage a fall flowering.
Harvesting Root Herbs
Root herbs can be harvested in the fall after foliage has mostly faded.
Herb Harvesting Tips
Herbs grown for a leaf or stem harvest should be pruned early in the spring. Cut back about half of their growth. This encourages faster growth. Once the plant is well established, up to 75% can be harvested without harming the plant. For most annual herbs, they will recover and allow three or four harvests in this manner before flowering. Perennials often have a slower growth pattern, so two harvests may be the most possible and no harvest (only trimming) should be done in the first year to encourage root growth.
To harvest for cooking, just cut as much as you need when you need it, so long as it won’t harm the plant. To harvest for preserving, most gardeners take large harvests all at once in order to make the preservation process faster (all at once instead of several times in small batches).
Herb Preserving Tips
There are many ways to preserve herbs and the choice will depend on what’s being preserved and the tools at hand to the gardener. Drying is probably the most common and easiest. Freezing is another favorite and some herbs (especially roots) are preserved by pickling.
When drying herbs for preservation, do so in daytime heat if at all possible and avoid oven or other methods that can lead to burning and ruining of the herb. Most types of leaf and stem herbs are best dried in small bunches, hung upside down and encased in paper sacks to absorb excess moisture. Some herbs like garlic can be hung as-is in tied bunches, others may require that they be laid out in sunlight for a few hours to cook away their waxy coating.
If freezing, many methods are possible from simple chopping and freezing to purees of butter or olive oil. Root herbs are often sliced, grated, or chopped for freezing. Some root herbs like ginger can be pickled in vinegar as well.
Want to learn more about harvesting herbs?
Check out these helpful resources:
Harvesting and Preserving Herbs for the Home Gardener from North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service
Growing Herbs in the Home Garden from West Virginia University Extension Service
How To Dry Herbs From the Garden
The first step is to pick them at the right time. Harvest after the morning dew has dried, but before the heat of the sun has begun to wilt the plants. Make sure to harvest before flowering – if you’ve been cutting all summer, they probably haven’t had a chance to flower, so harvest before the weather begins to significantly cool towards late fall.
The optimum cuts will depend on the herb in question, but most herbs are harvested by the “branch” – groupings of stems. With others, the entire plant, from root base up, is cut off. After cutting, shake them gently to drop any insects or other creepies. Then carefully go through and remove dried leaves and trim away leaves that are singed or otherwise compromised.
Remove the smaller leaves along the bottom portion of the branch and rinse in cool water. Pat dry with paper towels or cotton cloth unless you have time to let them dry on a countertop before processing.
Cut and tie string into small slip knots (lasso’s) and bundle herbs into groups of 4-6 branches. The more moist the herbs, the fewer you want in each bundle. Now choose your drying method. Most common herbs can be air dried, dried in a dehydrator, etc. The more moist varieties should be done in an oven or solar dehydrator.
Drying Garden Herbs Using Air Drying
This is the most common and easiest. Put each bundle into a small paper sack with holes punched in it. Label the bag with the name of the herb, scrunch the opening of the bag around the bundle and tie it off. Then hang it from that end, so the herbs are hanging inside the bag, upside down. Keep them in a warm, airy room. Depending on temperature and humidity, your herbs will likely dry in 2-3 weeks. They should almost (but not quite) crumble at your touch when they’re ready.
Drying Garden Herbs Using A Dehydrator
Put the bundles into the dehydrator and set to the lowest setting (if possible). Drying with a common dehydrator takes about 5 days or so for most herbs. If using a solar dehydrator, do not leave it in the sun during the hottest part of the day or you will cook the oils from the herbs.
Drying Garden Herbs Using An Oven
On a very low setting (200 degrees or so), place the herbs on a paper-lined cookie sheet. Leave overnight (about 8-10 hours), checking for the last two or three hours to be sure they aren’t cooking. Let them stand for about half an hour or so before handling and packaging the dried herbs.
Drying Using A Microwave
This method is generally not recommended because the microwave will definitely cook the oils out of your herbs. Some of the thicker, more moist herbs may have some of that moisture removed by using the microwave before going to another drying method.
No matter which method you chose, once the herbs are dry, you can store them in a number of ways. Many put the bundles directly into zipper bags or plastic containers with air-tight lids. Small (half quart) canning jars can also work well (just screw on the lid). Storing in this manner retains more of the oils and flavor, since the leaves stay intact until crushed at the point of use.
Crushing them is also an option, of course. Just scrape the leaves from their stems with your hand and fingers. Then crush by hand or with a mortar.
Be sure to label and date your storage with the name of the herb and the date they were stored. Keep in a cool, dry, dark place. Dried herbs are generally good for about a year.
You can learn more about drying herbs at home here:
Home Food Preservation: Drying Herbs from Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences
Food Safety & Preservation: Drying Herbs from Oregon State University Extension Service
Methods for Drying Rosemary
There are several different ways that you can dry rosemary.
The most traditional way to dry rosemary is to tie up to 8 sprigs into bundles and hang for a month or so. Herb lovers have different opinions on the best way to do this. We generally put several bundles on a coat hanger and keep them in a dark place with fairly good air flow but not a lot of activity. We turn the hanger around every day or two to ensure the rosemary dries evenly. Studies have shown that drying rosemary indoors, rather than outside, will provide the best color and flavor. You’ll know the rosemary is fully dried when it is no longer bendable. The risk of this method is that some of the leaves might fall off the branches.
One way to solve the issue of lost leaves is to hang the bundle inside of a brown paper bag. Several gardeners take this a step further by putting the bag of rosemary in the crisper drawer of their refrigerator.
Another option for drying rosemary is to use a dehydrator until the stems break when they are bent.
4. Pros & Cons To Using A Dehydrator To Dry Parsley
- A big pro is that a dehydrator uses warm air to gently dry out your herbs, parsley retains it’s flavor and aroma much better in this way.
- Another pro in favor of the dehydrator is the convenience. Simply set it to the recommended timings and heat for herbs and parsley and it will work its magic.
- The biggest con against using a dehydrator is the initial outlay and if you are not intending on using for various projects it can be a solid investment.
- Another con is if you don’t lay the parsley out evenly and make sure to remove woody stalks first, it can really impede the drying process. Dehydrators can be effective if you use them correctly though.
- For us we love the smell of herbs drying in the oven or dehydrator so this is a real bonus for drying parsley, it sort of freshens the whole house.
- Dried herbs can be immediately crushed in a mortar and pestle and stored in air tight containers. A short timescale from harvest to storage. For a full guide on drying herbs in a dehydrator we have put together a free guide available here.
3. To Freeze:
Some herbs keep their flavor best when frozen. These include basil, chives, chervil, dill, lemon balm, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, thyme, and lemon verbena. Wash them thoroughly and shake or pat off the excess water. Place individual leaves or chopped leaves in freezer bags. Flatten the bags to remove air. Dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme also freeze well on the stalks, which you can add frozen to cooking pots and remove before serving. You can also puree herbs with a small amount of water and freeze the paste in small zippered freezer bags, then break off frozen pieces as you need them. Combine herbs that are good culinary companions, such as sage and thyme, mix with a little olive oil, and seal the paste in freezer bags. Or pour the mixture into ice cube trays once frozen, remove and store in freezer bags and thaw individual cubes as needed.