How to Harvest, Store and Dry Herbs
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Stock your pantry with homegrown fresh herbs, like parsley, basil, thyme and oregano to save money at the grocery store. Here's how to dry herbs at home.
Summertime brings an abundance of herbs to the garden. Drying them properly allows you to store them and use them for cooking or flavored oils. Once you learn how to dry herbs, you’ll discover dozens of uses for them. They even make great gifts!
Drying your food is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to preserve produce—especially herbs. It’s also a fine way to embrace a simpler, healthier and more eco-friendly lifestyle, as dried herbs retain more vitamins and minerals and contain no chemical additives.
When and How to Harvest Fresh Garden Herbs
It’s important to harvest herbs at the right time. In most cases, leaves provide the herbs’ flavors and should be picked before the flowers develop. Harvest them on warm, dry days early in the morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the heat of the sun has had a chance to wilt the leaves. (Make harvesting even easier with DIY herb markers made of corks!)
It’s best to pick and prepare one variety of herb for drying at a time. Discard any damaged or diseased leaves. Strip large-leaved herbs, such as sage and mint, from their stalks. But leave small feathery herbs, like dill and fennel, on the stalks until drying is complete.
Effective drying relies more on abundant dry, fresh air than on heat. A well-ventilated place out of direct sunlight is ideal no matter which drying method you choose. Not sure how to get started growing herbs? Here’s how to create a windowsill herb garden.
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How to Air Dry Herbs
Tarragon, bay, mints, lavender, rosemary, lemon balm and small-leaved herbs, such as thyme, are suited to air-drying. Spread the leaves out on a clean surface to dry, or tie the sprigs into loose bundles and hang to dry. Large, dense bunches can develop mold and discolored leaves. Hang branches to dry, leaves downward, wrapped loosely in muslin or thin paper bags to keep out dust and to catch falling leaves or seeds. Do not use plastic bags, which can promote mold development.
Drying time depends on the size of the branches and on the humidity. On average, allow seven to 10 days. The aim is to remove 70% of the water content; when crushed, the leaves should sound like crisp cornflakes.
You can also air-dry the seeds of fresh herbs such as fennel, parsley, caraway and coriander. Seedheads ripen unevenly; once most of a head is brown, harvest it with about 2 feet of stem or as long a stem as possible. Bundle four to five stems together, cover the heads with muslin or a paper bag and hang them upside down.
Save space by growing a vertical herb garden in a shoe organizer.
How to Dry Herbs on a Rack
You can speed up drying by spacing out individual sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs on a tray. This method is well-suited to large-leaved herbs, such as bay. Then place the tray in an airing cupboard, in the warming drawer of an oven or in a warm, airy spot out of direct sunlight. Turn leaves or stalks frequently to ensure even drying, which should take two or three days.
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How to Dry Herbs in the Oven
The leaves of herbs such as sage, mint, rosemary, thyme and parsley, stripped from their stalks, are ideal for oven drying. Space out leaves on a muslin-covered tray in an oven set to the lowest possible temperature. High temperatures will drive off the fragrant essential oils. Leave the door ajar to allow moisture to escape.
Turn the leaves over after 30 minutes to ensure even drying; they will be quite dry after about an hour. Leave in the oven until they’re cool.
Psst—go beyond the basics with these 9 little-known herbs.
How to Dry Herbs in the Microwave
If you’re impatient or need the herbs right away, you can nuke them in the microwave. Start out at 1 minute, check for dryness, and continue at 30-second increments until the leaves are dry and crisp.
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The Best Way to Store Dried Herbs
No matter what method you use to dry herbs, the packing and storing process is the same. Strip the leaves from the tough stems. Working with 1 herb at a time, crush the leaves into pieces of the desired size. Simply crumble the dried herbs with your fingers, and discard the hard leafstalks and midribs. Store in small airtight containers, preferably made of pottery or opaque glass. If you use clear glass containers, store them in a dark place so the herbs don’t lose their color.
Keep in mind that dried herbs are suitable only for cooked foods, and take note: Drying concentrates the flavors, so you don’t need to use as much in recipes. If a recipe calls for a specific measurement of fresh herbs, use one-third that amount of dried herbs instead.
How to Grind Dried Herbs
If you prefer ground herbs, you can whir the dried herbs in a clean electric coffee grinder. Pack the grinder as full as you can get it. Grind until the leaves are reduced to the desired fineness. It helps to hold the grinder and shake it a little as it grinds. If there are tough bits of stem remaining, sift the herbs through a fine sieve to remove them. Store in air-tight jars in a cool, dark place for maximum freshness.
How to Make Flavored Oils with Dried Herbs
Bonus Tip: Use dried herbs to make flavored oils. Place the dried herbs into dry, sterilized bottles. Warm olive oil below a simmer (don’t boil it) just until you can see some movement in the pan, but no bubbles. While the oil is hot, use a funnel to pour it into the bottles over the herbs. When the oil is cool, cap it and let it sit for a minimum of 2 weeks to allow it to absorb the flavors of the herbs. Pour it through a strainer into new sterilized bottles, removing the steeped herb. If you like, add a sprig or 2 of a dried herb or a few peppercorns to the new bottles for visual interest. Keep in a cool, dark place and use within a couple of months.
Next, learn how to preserve fresh herbs by freezing.