The herbs you grow and dry yourself will be far superior to those you buy packaged. Herbs with woody stems and thick or tough leaves are best for drying and hold their flavor—thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, and lemon verbena are good choices.
(Herbs with soft leaves and stems such as basil, dill, parsley, chervil, and marjoram lose most of their flavor when dried; soft leaved and stemmed herbs are best chopped and frozen with a little water or oil in ice-cube trays.)
Herb leaves and small flower heads for drying are best and most flavorful when plants reach maturity–usually just before flower buds open. That is when the essential oil in leaves is most concentrated. Pick herbs for drying early in the day.
Air drying, dehydrator drying, microwave drying, and oven drying are relatively easy. The key to herb drying, no matter the method you choose, is to dry the herb completely leaving no moisture behind to host mold in storage.
Easy Steps to Dry Herbs:
Clip stems with leaves for drying then rinse them under gentle running water to remove dust and insects. Press the herbs dry between two paper towels. Remove any dead or discolored stems or leaves before drying.
Air Dry Herbs (this method works well for herbs with long stems):
- Tie the herbs in small bunches by the end of the stems—use kitchen twine or string.
- Suspend them upside down by their stems; tie them to a cross string or line that will hold the weight of several bunches.
- Hang them in the kitchen, garden shed, or attic–anywhere where the temperature is warm and air circulation good.
- Hanging bunches upside down—leaves down—will cause the flavoring oils from the stem to concentrate in the leaves.
- Leaves should dry in 5 to 10 days; when they crumble between your fingers easily, they are dry.
- To avoid herbs gathering dust or insects while air drying, place a small paper bag around the leaf ends of each bunch and tie the bag secure. Poke several half inch holes in the bag to ensure air circulation and label each bag. Roll the bag between your fingers gently and the leaves will crumble and fall to the bottom of the bag when dry—as will seed pods.
- Be sure leaves are completely dry or they will mold in storage.
Tray or Screen Dry Herbs (this method works well for herbs with large leaves or flowers):
- Use a tray or section of clean window screen to dry herbs with large leaves, large flowers, or seed pods.
- Elevate the tray or screen on wooden blocks in a clean, warm location where there is plenty of air circulation.
- Wash the herbs and cover them with cheesecloth to keep off dust and insects.
- Turn the herbs over every day or two until they dry evenly.
Oven Dry Herbs:
- Place the herbs one layer deep on an oven rack or screen.
- Set the oven temperature below 100°F (40°C) and prop the oven door open to allow moisture to escape.
- Check the herbs for drying at 5 to 10 minute intervals until they are dry; it will be difficult to maintain an even low temperature for even drying; essential oils are easily lost using this method.
Microwave Dry Herbs (this method works well for small quantities of herbs):
- Microwave drying is well suited to small quantities of herbs.
- Place cleaned leaves and sprigs between a double-layer of paper towels.
- Microwave herbs on high for 2½ minutes then check to see if stems and leaves are dry.
- If not dry, microwave an additional 30 seconds and check again and repeat until dry.
Dehydrator Dry Herbs:
- Place herbs on the a drying tray in a preheated dryer with the thermostat set for 90° to 100°F (about 35°C).
- Drying will occur in 2 to 3 hours.
Testing Herbs for Dryness:
Herbs are dry when the leaves easily crumble and stems are brittle and break when bent. You can double check for dryness by placing herbs in an airtight container for several days. If condensation appears on the inside of the container, dry the herbs longer.
Packaging Dry Herbs:
Place dried herbs in any container that excludes air, light, and moisture; air and light will result in loss of flavor; moisture can result in caking and loss of color. Dark colored jars with airtight lids work best. Avoid paper or cardboard containers which will absorb essential oil and do not protect herbs from air and moisture.
Storing Dry Herbs:
Store dried herbs in a cool place–60°F (15°C) or lower; this will help them hold their color and flavor. Properly stored herbs will keep for six months to a year. For full flavor, avoid crushing or grinding herbs until just before using.