Under 2 hours
Basil, Parsley, Lemon Balm and other herbs can accent many dishes, and they’re nutritious and good for you. Air-drying is an easy way to preserve them. As their water content decreases, their oils become more concentrated, so even small amounts of dried herbs add lots of flavor !
Fresh Herbs Versus Dried Herbs
Some cooks and gardeners think fresh herbs are better than dried, but they can be hard to find after the growing season, and they don’t last long after they’re picked. Tender herb leaves, like basil, mint, parsley, cilantro and chives, also lose much of their flavor during cooking.
Dried herbs like sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves and thyme are better for cooking. Because their flavors become more concentrated during the drying process, you can use smaller amounts of them. That saves money if you're buying them.
A tablespoon of fresh leaves is roughly equal to a teaspoon of dried leaves. In other words, if you’re substituting fresh leaves for dried ones, you’ll need to use two to three times as many.
Some grocery stores sell freshly harvested herbs in packages or as living plants, but they’re often pricey. Whether you want to use them fresh or dried, you can save money by growing and processing your own herbs.
If you have space between the flowers or vegetables in your garden, tuck herb plants or seeds around them. Just don’t put them where taller plants will shade them and make sure they get about four hours of sunlight each day. Check your plant tag or seed packet for more directions on how to care for them.
How to Air-Dry Herbs
The easiest way to preserve herbs is to hang them upside down to dry for a few weeks. This air-drying method works best for herbs that don’t contain a lot of moisture, such as oregano, thyme, dill, marjoram, bay and rosemary.
- Start by snipping the stems of your herbs when their flowers start to form. For chives and lavender, cut the stems to the ground. For most other herbs, cut about 1/3 of the stems at a time and let the rest keep growing, so you can harvest again later.
- Harvest your plants early in the morning, as soon as the dew has dried from their leaves.
- Before you bring them in, gently shake the herbs to knock off any insects or soil. If they need to be washed, use cool water and pat them dry with a towel. Don’t let them stay damp, which can lead to mold.
- Go through the herbs and pull off any leaves that are yellowed or discolored.
- Strip a few lower leaves from the stems and gather them into a bundle. Wrap a rubber band or twine around the ends. You can also use twist ties, which are easy to tighten once the moisture evaporates and the herbs start to shrink. If you use rubber bands or twine, check the herbs from time to time and re-wrap them as needed, so they don’t fall out of the bundle.
- Put no more than four to six stems per bundle, so they can get good air circulation.
- To keep dust off your herbs while they’re drying, make a few holes in a plain paper bag and put the bundle into it, upside down. Tie the ends of the bag and hang it upside down in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight.
- If you don’t have a place to hang the herbs, get creative. Hang them from a towel bar or closet rod or re-purpose door knobs and attach them to a board. Attach decorative door knobs to a board if you’re putting your herbs where they’ll be seen.
- Check the herbs in a couple of weeks. You’ll know they’re ready to use or store when you can crumble a few leaves in your hand and they’re crispy and crunchy.
- If you’re growing herbs for their seeds, wait until the seeds are brown and dry on the plants before collecting them.
Different Ways to Dry Herbs
- You can microwave your herbs or dry them in the oven. Both are quick, easy ways to preserve them, but even on low settings, the herbs can get slightly cooked. That reduces their oils and flavors.
- If you use your microwave or oven, put your herbs in single layers on baking sheets. Then follow the instructions for your appliance to know what temperature setting to use and how long to dry the plants.
- A food dehydrator is great for herbs with a high moisture content. It’s also helpful if you live in a humid climate where air-drying takes a long time.
- Start with clean herbs that have been patted dry of any moisture, just as if you were drying them in the air. Strip the leaves from the stems, so they’ll dehydrate faster.
- Put the leaves in single layers on each dehydrator tray, so they’ll get good air circulation. The instructions that come with your dehydrator will usually tell you to preheat it to 95 to 115 degrees, or up to 125 degrees in humid areas. Most herbs will dry out in one to four hours.
- As with air-dried herbs, you’ll know the leaves are ready when you can crumble a few leaves between your fingers.
- You can dry muliple kinds of herbs in each dehydrator batch without affecting their flavors.
How to Store Dried Herbs
- Store your dried leaves whole or crumbled in airtight food storage containers or food storage bags. You can also keep them in small, clean canning jars with lids. Toss any dried leaves that have even a trace of mold.
- Keep them in a cool place out of direct sunlight.
- Don’t forget to mark your jars or bags with the date and type of herbs in them. Herbs have the freshest flavors if you use them within a year of storing them.
- If you’re preserving large amounts of herbs and your space is limited, try hanging drying racks or stackable drying racks. Store them in a closet or other warm, dry place out of direct sunlight.