How to Dry and Store Fresh Herbs
How wonderful to have a nice supply of dried herbs in your pantry, ready to use for healing teas or seasoning in your favorite recipes. I always feel resourceful and proud of myself when I see the line of jars on the shelf filled with dried herbs I picked from my garden or found in the wild. That’s not something you’d say about store-bought!
Drying herbs is easy, but you do need to know a few simple things or your efforts could go to waste (literally!)
Here are the key things to keep in mind:
- 1. Start with good quality herbs. Drying does not improve leaves that are damaged or diseased.
- 2. After sorting, give the herbs a quick dip in a sink filled with cool water. They may look clean, but I always find a few bugs and bits of grass in the water. Set them to drain and air-dry on clean kitchen towels. Change the towels if needed. You don’t want to start with dripping wet herbs.
- 3. Separate out parts that won’t be used. For herbs with tough stems like thyme, you can easily remove the leaves by holding the upper end of the stem with one hand, then pulling the leaves downward the length of the stem using the fingers of your other hand pressed close against the stem. This works 100% better than pulling up!
- 4. For faster, better drying, cut large herbs like mullein into small pieces. Cut thick herbs like red clover flower into thin slices. Also cut thick stems or roots lengthwise. Too long a drying time can cause the plant oils to evaporate which reduces the flavor and medicinal value. Thin leaves and thick parts such as roots should be dried in separate batches.
- 5. The best drying method depends on your circumstances. Only use a dehydrator if it has a thermostat to maintain the proper temperature, no higher than ninety-five degrees. Any hotter and the herbs will dry and seal up on the outside, leaving the inside still moist and ready to start growing mold. For this reason, oven drying is also not recommended. When not using a dehydrator, the best area is a warm room with low humidity. It should also have some air circulation. A spare bedroom with a sunny window could be good, but probably not the laundry room! Speaking of the sun, do NOT put herbs in direct sunlight despite what you might have seen in old-time pioneer movies or Italian cooking shows.
- 6. Prepare the herbs for drying by laying them in single layers on a tray or baking sheet. Then set the trays in an out of the way spot where they won’t be knocked over. It’s a good idea to turn over herbs that are thick once or twice a day so they’ll dry more quickly and evenly. The time needed for drying depends on how thick the herbs are and the conditions in the drying area. I was amazed when my trays of cleavers dried in less than a day, and amazed again when the red clover was still damp after several days.
- 7. The drying process is done when leaves and stems are brittle and crumble easily, and when root pieces don’t bend, but break with a snap. Check back a few days after herbs have been stored. If there is any bending, remove the herbs and re-dry them.
- 8. Store dried herbs in airtight containers. Glass is good, plastic is not, as moisture can enter. When dried and stored correctly, leaf herbs can keep their potency for a year or more, and root herbs for several years or longer. I wish you happy drying!