So your garden is pumping out herbs and you're not quite sure how to dry them? I'll show you how to preserve your fresh garden herbs and prolong the vibrancy and flavor well into winter.
Want to know more about how to dry herbs? This post will cover preserving herbs by drying them. There are other ways to preserve herbs such as compound butters, freezing, making oil infusions, etc. Check out our parsley preservation guide here if you're looking for other preservation techniques.
If you are starting our on your culinary herb journey, make sure to check out our post on the top 8 herbs to grow yourself at home.
Should you wash your herbs before drying?
Some people prefer not to wash their herbs before drying because that could add moisture and cause spoilage. Others definitely wash to remove soil and other debris. I will only wash herbs that I plan to use for cooking. For example, I will wash sage, rosemary and thyme. After washing, I spin the herbs dry in a salad spinner and lay them on a clean towel for an hour or two before proceeding with the dehydrating/drying process.
Herbs and flowers that I plan to use in cosmetic, decorative or other applications like calendula and lavender will not be washed.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours.
Method 1: Hanging Herbs to Dry
It worked for our grandparents, so why not for us? This is one of my favorite ways to dry woody herbs as well as flowers like chamomile. It is a tried and true method people have been using for centuries. I like to create bundles of herbs that I can tie at one end really tightly with garden or butcher's twine, leaving about 12 inches (30cm) of extra twine to use for hanging and tying.
Once bundled, I hang them in the kitchen, in the pantry or even my office ensuring that they get proper air circulation. This method takes time and patience but in my opinion yields the best result as the herbs slowly dehydrate leaving behind vibrant leaves. The slow dehydration/drying process doesn't end up shrinking the herbs as severely as quick dry methods (dehydrator and oven methods below).
I also use this method for drying flowers for seed harvesting and thin skinned chili peppers. Thick skinned peppers should be dried in a dehydrator or oven.
Method 2: Drying herbs on a screen
Another great way to dry your harvest is by placing your herbs on a screen in a warm, dry and bright room. Window screen material is perfect for this as it allows good airflow. The last thing we want when we are drying herbs and/or flowers is for moisture to be present. This will hinder the drying process and can in fact spoil your harvest.
You can purchase window screen material from your local hardware store and DIY a frame from scrap lumber. Personally, I prefer to just use one of the window screen inserts from my house. I remove the screen insert and lay it on top of my seed starting shelf. The top shelf works well because it allows me to continue using my seed starting setup unhindered but it is also high enough that I don't have to worry about dust or soil particles getting onto my herb harvest.
Method 3: Using a Dehydrator to Dry your herb harvest
A dehydrator is a great appliance and in my opinion, a must for any serious gardener and grower. They are great for dehydrating fruits, vegetables, flowers and of course herbs. What is great about dehydrators is that they are adjustable in terms of temperature and time, which gives the user a lot of control and accuracy.
Some tender herbs like basil and parsley for example may require a lower temperature whereas woodier herbs like rosemary and sage may require a higher temperature. Consult the user manual for specific instructions and settings.
Method 4: Using an Oven to Dry Herbs
This is my least favorite way to dry herbs and flowers because it is so unpredictable. In fact, if your oven doesn't go as low as 150-175F (65-80C), then I would recommend you don't even bother. You could end up cooking your herbs and they will become brown and unappetizing.
If your oven does in fact go that low, the technique is quite simple. Set your oven to the lowest possible setting. On a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place your cleaned herbs. Try not to overlap them too much, as we want them to dry evenly.
With this method you must keep an eye on your oven and check back regularly. You may even have to flip and turn your herbs if you find that they are not drying as evenly as needed. You may also want to consider propping the oven door open with a wooden spoon so that the oven chamber doesn't get too hot.
I would stress that if you have the space for it, invest in a dehydrator that fits your budget and space requirements.
Method 5: Using a Microwave to Dry Herbs
I'm generally not a fan of using microwaves, but this hack is certainly worthwhile. For a quick fix, you can place herbs on a single layer on paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds on high. Toss the herbs around and microwave again in increments of 15 seconds, tossing the herbs at each interval.
The end result should be crispy and crunchy. In a pinch, the microwave will do but I still recommend the hanging method to preserve the color and vibrancy of the herb.
Storing Dried Herbs
My favorite way to store dried herbs is in mason jars. Not only are they a practical, reusable container but the airtight seal helps keep your herbs fresh for longer. It is imperative that your herbs are fully dried before placing them in a mason jar or else they will spoil.
If your herbs are still on the stem, the best way to prepare them for storage is by carefully pulling back the dried leaves from the stems over a large sheet of parchment paper. You can then easily pick up the parchment paper sheet and funnel it into the storage container. The parchment paper won't be spoiled and can be used again.
Deli containers, reusable ziplock bags, and Tupperware are also great containers to use. We still recommend mason jars though!
Using Dried Herbs
So you have an amazing bounty of dried herbs from your garden. Now what? Here are a few recipes you can try: