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How to Dry Herbs

Make the most of your herb garden and enjoy homegrown herbs year-round. Drying herbs is a simple way to preserve their flavor long after the growing season has ended.

Bunches of dried herbs on a table.

Most herbs are best used fresh, however, dried home-grown herbs can be a good substitute, especially in winter when fresh herbs are in short supply.

There are a few different methods you can use to dry herbs, though some are definitely better than others when it comes to preserving the flavor of your home-grown herbs.

Best herbs for drying

Not all herbs are created equal when it comes to drying. Some herbs retain their flavor and aroma beautifully when dried, while others may lose much of their charm.

Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano dry nicely. They keep their flavor and texture.

Soft herbs like basil, parsley, and cilantro can be trickier to dry. They may lose some flavor, but they are still usable, and better than nothing in the winter months when fresh herbs are unavailable.

Harvesting herbs for drying

Timing is crucial when harvesting herbs for drying. Harvesting herbs at their peak can significantly affect the flavor, aroma, and potency of your dried herbs.

To determine if your herbs are ready for harvesting, look for:

  • Lush foliage: The plant should have plenty of healthy, vibrant leaves.
  • Pre-flowering stage: Many herbs are at their peak just before they flower. Look for signs of budding but harvest before full blooms appear.
  • Aromatic leaves: Gently rub a leaf between your fingers. If it releases a strong scent, it’s likely ready for harvesting.
  • Leaf color: Harvest when leaves are at their deepest green (for most herbs) and before they start to yellow or brown.
  • Stem development: For woody herbs like rosemary or thyme, harvest when new stems are just becoming firm, but before they become woody.

Flowering herbs like lavender or chamomile should be harvested when the flower buds have formed but haven’t fully opened. This is when the essential oil content in the flowers is at its highest.

If harvesting perennials or taking a mid-season harvest of annual herbs, always leave enough foliage for the plant to continue growing after harvesting. Don’t remove more than ⅓ of the plant in one go, and let it regrow before harvesting again.

At the end of the growing season, you may want to do a final large harvest. Many perennial herbs can be cut back significantly, up to two-thirds of the plant, at the end of the season. Annual herbs can be cut back entirely.

Preparing herbs for drying

Before drying herbs, they should be cleaned thoroughly. so that the dried herbs can be used in cooking. , inspected, and trimmed to ensure t.

1. Clean the herbs

If your dried herbs are going to be used for cooking, they need to be cleaned thoroughly before you dry them:

  1. Begin by gently shaking your freshly harvested herbs to remove any insects or loose dirt.
  2. Then, carefully rinse the herbs under cool running water. For herbs with delicate leaves, you might consider dipping them in a bowl of cool water instead.
  3. Pat the herbs dry with a clean towel or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Wet herbs are more likely to mold and take longer to dry.

2. Inspect your herbs

After cleaning, check each leaf and stem for damage or disease. Remove any leaves that are yellow, brown, or damaged.

3. Trim and remove unwanted parts

Unless you plan to dry the herbs in bundles (see below), trim any bulky stems that won’t be used. Focusing on leaves and tender stems helps the herbs dry faster and more evenly.

Drying methods

There are several ways to dry herbs, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.

Air drying

Air drying is a traditional, gentle method for preserving herbs.

It’s particularly effective for robust herbs with lower moisture content, like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. It is less suitable for herbs with high moisture content like basil or parsley, which may discolor or lose flavor during the lengthy time it takes them to dry.

However, air drying isn’t without drawbacks. It’s a slow process, typically taking one to two weeks, which can be challenging in humid climates where mold growth becomes a risk. Also, air drying requires a dedicated space with proper air circulation, temperature, and low humidity.

For robust herbs with long stems, such as rosemary, thyme, or lavender:

  1. Gather three to six sprigs and tie the stems with string or a rubber band.
  2. Cover the bundles loosely with a paper bag to keep the dust off, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.

More delicate herbs or those with smaller leaves, like parsley or cilantro, are better suited for tray drying:

  1. Arrange these herbs in a single layer between sheets of parchment paper on a flat tray or drying screen.
  2. Place the tray in a similar environment to hanging herbs – warm, dry, and well-ventilated.

Ventilation is key when air drying herbs. A well-ventilated attic or basement works well. Depending on the humidity, herbs can take about a week or more to dry completely.

Check the herbs daily for signs of mold. Once they crumble easily, they are ready to be stored in airtight containers.

Dehydrator drying

Herbs drying in a dehydrator.

Using a dehydrator is an efficient way to dry herbs. Dehydrators provide a consistent drying environment, so the herbs dry out quickly and evenly. Dehydrated herbs often retain their color well, as well as their flavor and aroma.

It’s the best method for drying large quantities of herbs quickly (hours rather than days), and is better at preserving the flavor and color of delicate herbs like basil and parsley.

  1. Spread the herbs in a single layer on the dehydrator trays.
  2. Set your dehydrator to 95-115°F/ 35-45°C for several hours. Check the manual for specific guidelines for each type of herb.
  3. Check the herbs periodically. They should be done when they crumble easily.

Oven drying

Oven drying is a quick and convenient method for preserving herbs, useful in humid climates or when you need dried herbs in a hurry.

However, the heat can cause herbs to lose essential oils, resulting in diminished flavor and aroma. While it’s a handy option in certain situations, it’s generally not the preferred way to dry herbs.

  1. Preheat your oven to its lowest temperature setting. 200°F/ 95°C usually works well.
  2. Separate the leaves from the stems and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  3. Place the baking sheet in the oven. Keep the door slightly open to allow moisture to escape.
  4. Check the herbs every 15 minutes and turn them to ensure even drying.
  5. Herbs should be dry in 1 to 2 hours.

Microwave drying

Drying herbs in the microwave is an ultra-quick method for small quantities of herbs.

It is a convenient way to dry herbs due to its speed, but it’s generally not recommended. The intense, rapid heating causes the causes significant loss of essential oils, reducing the herbs’ flavor and aroma.

If you want to try it:

  1. Separate the herbs from the stems then place the leaves between two paper towels on a microwave-safe plate.
  2. Microwave on high for one minute.
  3. Check the herbs and continue microwaving in 30-second intervals until dry. Be cautious to prevent burning the herbs.

Testing for dryness

To make sure your herbs are fully dry, gently touch and crumble a few leaves. Dried herbs should be crisp and break easily rather than bend.

If they still feel soft or flexible, they need more drying time.

Storing dried herbs

Once dry, store the herbs in airtight containers to preserve their essence.

Use glass jars or metal tins for the best results. Make sure the containers are clean and dry before use.

Label each container with the type of herb and the date it was dried. This helps you keep track of freshness and ensures you use the oldest herbs first.

Place the containers in a cool, dark place. Heat and light can degrade the herbs, causing them to lose their flavor and color.

>> For more details see: How to Store Dried Herbs