Drying Your Fresh Herbs
Recently, a friend asked how to take the fresh herbs that she displays in her kitchen and incorporate them into her dishes. She posed the question of how to take fresh herbs and dry them for later use.
There are many ways of dehydrating herbs to preserve them for a longer shelf life and to also use them in culinary meals. If you decide to take on this project of drying your herbs, listed below are four methods you can consider. Some ways are easier and faster than others. It really is up to your preference.
I find that the shorter the gap between harvesting your fresh herbs and drying them helps the dried herbs have a fresher looking color and flavor. If you are not growing them yourself, your local farmers markets will be a great source. Grocery store herbs may have been sitting in cold storage for while or been transported a long distance including sitting in a distribution warehouse.
Being able to use herbs long-term has many benefits to the pocketbook and in our busy life. Not all herbs dry well. Herbs, like Thyme and Oregano, tend to dry well because of their strong leaves and woody stems; while, herbs with more soft leaves lose some of their flavor when dried. Then there is the recommendation of cutting fresh herbs around mid-morning after the dew has dried and the essential oils components are at their peaks. Like you, I’m pretty darn busy most days. So, I’m lucky just to get the herbs dried. Herbs are pretty hardy so I wouldn’t worry about doing it wrong. Just relax and enjoy.
Whether you are just starting out or you are a pro at drying herbs, heat, low humidity, and air movement are the key elements to drying herbs. My grandmother would dry her herbs in her oven; while my great grandmother dried her herbs on a frame outside. My husband bought me the elite Cabela’s dehydrator for Christmas one year. I think secretly he had hopes that I would make beef jerky instead of drying herbs. Herbal experts have preferences of certain drying methods for each type of herb. Unless you are at that level of herbal intensity, I just recommend getting them dried in the method that you prefer.
Although I sound pretty complacent on drying herbs, please know that I am not. There is something really satisfying when you dry your own herbs. It is like you have your hand in making something special. If you want to keep that “farmer-style” of home decorations going in your home, take your completed handy work and place them in some cool jars located on your open kitchen shelf. Your herbs will be great to look at and easy to reach when cooking. I love all the wonderful old fashion jars one can buy at Hobby Lobby. Yet, I still primarily use my Mason and Ball Jars. I speculate it helps me feel closer to my Grandma Mina.
After you have cut your herbs, make sure to inspect the leaves, seeds, and stems for bruising, damaged, and even insects. Remove anything that looks suspicious to you like old or discolored leaves. Then, rinse the stems in cool water, carefully shaking the water off, and then pat dry with a towel or paper towel.
Drying In The Oven:
Place herb leaves or seeds on a baking sheet with low sides. The goal is to have a baking sheet with sides that are less than one inch; but I use glass cake pans and they work too.
Put herbs in an oven with an even temperature around 125 degrees Fahrenheit for two to four hours. Depending on your oven and the type of herbs, you may have to dry them shorter or longer. Just check from time to time to see if they are dry. If the leaves crumble easily, they are dry.
I prefer lower temperatures for a longer period of time. But, you may also use a 250 degrees Fahrenheit oven temperature. Start taking out dried herbs after a half an hour and continue to the process until all is dried.
Drying In The Microwave:
Distribute herbs evenly on a double layer of paper towels and place on a plate. I use a glass plate as the base; but you can even use paper plates.
Microwave your herbs on high for two and half minutes. Test to see if the leaves crumble easy. If not, continue to microwave them for 15 seconds at a time. Some herbs may need a little longer.
Drying In A Dehydrator:
Each dehydrator is different, so I recommend checking your dehydrator’s instructions for drying herbs. I’ve included general steps below to give you an idea of the process.
Pre-heat dehydrator with the thermostat set to 95°F to 115°F.
Place the herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays.
Drying times may vary from 2 to 5 hours. Check throughout the drying time. When the herbs dry, break, or crumble, they are done.
Drying By Air Drying:
Gather a hand full of herb stems or branches and tie them together with a string, yarn, or rubber band. Remember, the bigger the bunch is not always better. The goal is to get air movement to dry the herbs completely.
Hang the herbs by their stem or branches upside down in a dark, war, low-humidity, and well ventilated place for up to a week. When the leaves are dry and crisp, strip them off the stems and store.
Substituting Fresh, Dried, & Powder
If you need to substitute a dried or powdered herb for a fresh herb, here is an easy rule to help you convert them:
1 Tablespoon fresh herb = 1 teaspoon dried herb =¼ teaspoon powdered herb
The above methods are what I find works best for me and the environment I live in. Yes, Nebraska is miserably hot and humid in late July. It is a real challenge to dry herbs during this time. You may have to vary the above practices after a little trial and error. Good luck and happy drying!
Blessings, Herbal Farmwife
DISCLAIMER: This information should not be considered to be healthcare advice, medical diagnosis, or treatment. This information is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other healthcare professionals. Always consult a healthcare professional first before trying any herbs, spices, vitamins, or minerals mentioned in this posting. This information is merely a discussion of “thoughts” among friends. Please note that none of these statements have been evaluated by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration.