“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” - Hippocrates

The Ultimate Guide on How to Dry Herbs in your Kitchens

I have simple instructions on how to dry herbs in your kitchens, whether you want to do it the old-fashioned way and dry your herbs using just air, or whether you want to use more modern methods of drying herbs by using ovens, dehydrators or microwave ovens.

Different herbs are dried at different times of year. For example if you live in the northern hemisphere as I do:

  • Parsley and chervil are dried in May, June, and July
  • Burnet and tarragon are dried in June, July, and August
  • Marjoram and mint are dried in July
  • Summer savory and lemon thyme at the end of July and August.

However, before drying our herbs we need to know how to gather them first.

How to Harvest Herbs for Drying

I do my gathering of herbs, seeds and flowers on a sunny day, after the dew has dried off the flowers. Never pick your herbs if they are wet, as you will just invite mold. Not only that, but when the early morning has past your herbs are now at their peak.

Look at your herb plants and observe. If the leaves are young and tender and you are wanting to use the leaves, this is the time to harvest them. If the flowers are many, and in full bloom, and you want to use the flowers this is the time to harvest them. And of course the same goes for the seeds.

Try not to harvest herbal roots or bark as this will cause the plant to die. If you are taking the inner bark from a tree, do so from the branches, and not the trunk itself. If you harvest the bark from the trunk, you will kill the tree.

Don't cut the herb to the ground; leave at least a 4-inch stem if you're topping an annual. If it's a perennial, leave at least two-thirds of the plant unharmed.

Just take what you need, never more.

How to Dry Herbs: Preparing the Plant Parts

I know that you are eager to find out how to dry herbs, but you still need to know how to prepare herbs now that you have harvested them.

Make sure that you collect twice as many herbs and fresh flowers as the recipe requires in dried quantities. Collect these mid-morning, after the dew has dried, but before the sun begins to draw out the essential oils.

Leaves should be left still attached to the stems where possible, and unblemished.

How to Dry Herbs: Preparing the Roots

If you are using the roots of herbs, you can wash the dirt off, and then just take a piece of kitchen paper and mop up any excess water with this. Make sure that your roots are dry and then cut them up in 1 inch pieces. Try and make the pieces all the same size as much as possible, so that they will all dry at roughly the same time.

However, when using herb roots, they are generally better fresh rather than dried. Dig in the fall after the leaves are dead and the roots are mature, or before they start growing again in the spring. Wash in cool water. Dry in a place that's warm enough to dry them soon but that's not exposed to the sun, such as an attic. Or slice and dry in a shady place where air circulation is good. Dry in the sun or oven only if you can't dry them completely the first way. Store when thoroughly dry and brittle.

If protected from extremes of heat and cold, the roots will keep fine for years. Store so as to protect them from the air as much as possible.

How to Dry Herbs: Preparing the Leaves

You don't need to cut up the leaves of your herbs, use them whole.  When collecting the flowers, they should be fully open, and not yet turning to seed. Shake the dirt off and remove the leaves from the stems. You don't want leaves that have been eaten by insects, or leaves that have marks on them. So separate them out until you have only the best. It is best that you do not wash the leaves.

How to Dry Herbs: Preparing the Flowers

To get the best out of my tinctures and teas, I always make sure that I pick my flowers on a nice sunny day, around about 11, before it gets too hot, but just making sure that there is no moisture on the flowers from the night before. I never pick flowers the next day after rains. I always wait at least 3 days. This is because the rains have lessened the potency of the essential oils in the flowers and I don't want that.

Pick during the time where the flowers are in bloom but not yet turning to seed. You may have to pick on successive days and freeze the flowers until you have enough. They may discolor in the freezer, but they do not lose their potency.

Again, there should be no need to wash the flowers. Just pick them over, and make sure that they are all good.

When you are drying herbal flowers don't bruise or overheat them. Make sure  that you don't pile them up; and dry them on a screen if possible. This allows the air to get to them from all sides.

How to Dry Herbs: Preparing the Seeds

Once the herbs have flowered and developed seed heads, these can be harvested. You will want the flowers ripe, but dry, and before the seeds start falling to the ground.

Spread the seed pods on a cloth in the sun to dry. If it takes more than one day, stir occasionally while they are outside and bring them in at night. When your herb seeds are dry, shell and store them in a tightly covered container in a cool, dry place.

Fresh herbs and dried herbs in bottles on the table.

The Basics on How to Dry Herbs

Dry your flowers, leaves, petals and herbs separately, before mixing according to the recipe. To dry them, you can either use air, your oven or your microwave.

How to Air Dry Herbs

If you are going to use the air, you can use 2 methods. You can either:

  1. Hang them upside in loose bunches out if direct sunlight and away from moist air
  2. Or, place them on a tray in a single layer

How to Dry Herbs in  Bunches

Bunches of herbs drying from a ceiling

Drying herbs this way is very successful if you have hot, dry weather and can place them out of direct sunlight where they will get good air circulation. Never tie the bunches too tightly, as this will prevent the herbs in the middle from drying. It can also cause the herbs to rot from the center out.

There is a reason for hanging the herbs upside down. It is to make sure that all the essential oils are concentrated in the areas you want them to be.

Cut off the top 6 inches of the plant, or use whole plants, bunch them, tie the bundles with string, and hang them up with the root end upward in a shady, airy place. (They hold the flavor better when not pow- dered.) Allow at least 2 weeks for drying.

Hanging works well with anise, basil, marigold, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, and thyme. Mint, lemon balm, and most other small-leaved kitchen herbs easily dry in the shade within 3 days.

If you dry your herbs whole like this, crumble them or rub them through a sieve to remove the stems and midribs when you're ready to use them.

How to Dry Herbs in Single Layers

Place your herbs, either individual leaves, or leaves still on the stem (they will be easier to get off this way once they are dried), onto either kitchen paper, or newspaper in a single layer. Leave in a warm, dry, airy place, but out of direct sunlight, until they feel crisp to the touch but still have their color and do not crumble and shatter when touched. This can take anywhere between 5-15 days, depending on the moisture content of the herb.

Never put your plants anywhere near direct sunlight. Direct hot sunlight ruins leaves by burning or browning; a little sun early or late in the day is, however, okay. Aromatic herbs shouldn't be exposed to too much heat, and don't let them get rained on.

How to Dry Herbs in the Oven or Dehydrator

Drying herbs in the oven is a little more tricky than just allowing them to dry naturally in the sun. If you have an oven, you can dry them on the lowest setting, but you will have to watch it constantly, making sure that you don't over cook them.

For both the oven  or dehydrator method, spread your herbs in shallow pans and place at 110°F, with the door ajar if you're using an oven. Don't mix different kinds of herbs. It takes an average of 8 hours.

Some herbs are huge plants (as tall as 6 feet high) with real big leaves. Drying big, moist-leaved plants is harder than doing small ones. With comfrey, borage, and costmary you can tear the midrib away from the rest of the leaf and then tear the rest of the leaf into smaller pieces. That helps the leaves dry better and prevents mold.

Tearing the small leaves away from the stem (which can then be discarded) speeds up the process. The problem with tearing the leaves is that they don't hold their flavor as well. Turn all drying leaves once or twice a day. Keep good air circulation. Thick leaves tend to be better frozen than dried. 

How to Dry Herbs in the Microwave

You can also dry herbs in a microwave. Spread them out in a single layer on some kitchen paper and then place another layer of kitchen paper on the top, so you make a sandwich. Microwave on HIGH for 3-4 minutes. If you are using the microwave for drying your herbs make sure that when it comes to delicate, feathery type leaves like dill and fennel that you use the sun rather, as they just don't have enough moisture to process in the microwave.

How to Store your Dried Herbs

Now that  you have learned how to dry herbs successfully, so that you won't get mold on your herbs in time to come, you will need to make sure that this will be true, even after you have stored them for a while.

Moisture is your number 1 enemy here, and so the herbs must be totally dry before storing them. I like to store my herbs in a dark cupboard in glass jars for the first few days. If I notice any condensation on the glass, I whip them out, toot sweet and place them in the sun to completely dry out.

After that, I put them back in the dry jars and test again. If there is no more signs of moisture, then I pack them away in brown paper bags.

Always label your collections carefully, and include the date if you are not going to be using them for some time. Any moisture still present will be more readily absorbed by the paper, rather than using glass jars. You also want to keep them out of direct light, so another reason for using the paper bags.

Always store your dried herbs in a cool, dark, dry place away from heat—not on a shelf over or beside your stove! The cool storage inhibits evaporation of the flavoring oil in the herb, and the darkness protects the color, which fades when exposed to light.

By Kathryn Bax

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