How to Dry Herbs
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Authored by Tractor Supply Company
Herbs add so much color and flavor to everyday cooking, and growing your own herbs is an especially satisfying way to enjoy your garden. Drying herbs is an excellent and simple method to preserving your crop after the growing season of herbs is past.
Drying herbs preserves—and sometimes intensifies—the flavors of the plants, and herbs that are properly dried and stored can keep up to a year or longer. Once you know how to dry herbs and store them properly, you’ll have that extra flavor to last all winter long.
When you’re drying fresh herbs, you want to maximize the flavor of the plant. According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, the best time to harvest herbs for drying is in the morning after the dew has dried, but before they get wilted from the afternoon sun. Your herbs will also be more flavorful when you harvest them just before they flower. You can harvest herbs for drying anytime during the growing season, once the plant is big enough to survive having a few branches cut off.
Remove any damaged or unhealthy parts of the plant. You can rinse the herbs with cold water or simply shake off any dirt or insects. If you’ve grown the plants yourself and you haven’t used chemicals, you don’t need to wash them. Washing the herbs can strip some of the plant’s essential oils that contain flavor. If you do rinse your herbs, pat them dry with a paper towel before hanging or dehydrating them.
To hang-dry herbs in bundles, tie the plant stems together with a string or a rubber band and hang the herb bundle upside down. It’s best to hang them where it will get plenty of ventilation. A warm, dry place with plenty of air circulation and no direct sunlight is ideal for hanging herbs to dry. Keep the drying plants away from moist or humid areas, such as near a dishwasher or sink. If you’re worried about dust accumulating on your herbs, cover them with a paper bag with holes punched in it to allow air circulation.
Hang drying takes one to two weeks. After a week, check the leaves to see if they are completely dry: they should crack or crumble when you press them. Once your herbs are dried, transfer them to an airtight container.
Preheat your dehydrator or oven between 95 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 40 degrees Celsius), or up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) if you live in a very humid environment. Baking at higher temperatures than this will take away the flavor of the herbs. If your oven has a warming drawer, you can use this compartment.
Herbs with a higher water content such as basil, oregano and mint will take slightly longer to dehydrate and can be dried at a slightly higher temperature than herbs with lower water content such as parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme.
Spread your herbs in a single layer on the drying screen of your dehydrator or on a baking sheet for the oven. The drying time will vary anywhere between forty-five minutes and several hours depending on the herbs you’re drying, as well as the specifics of your appliance. Check at least once an hour to see if they are finished. Turn the plants over when you check them to allow all sides of the herbs to dry evenly. When they are completely dry, the leaves should break or crumble when you bend them.
Turn off the dehydrator or oven and let the herbs rest before transferring them to an airtight container for storage.
Herbs should be stored in airtight containers in a dry, cool place away from direct sunlight. Canning jars are a great storage option. Keeping your dried herbs cool and dry will also help them last longer. Sunlight and heat can reduce the color and flavor of the herbs, so keeping herbs stored near the stove, though convenient, isn’t the best way to extend their shelf life.
Dried herbs will have the best flavor in the first six months after they’re dried, but if they are stored properly, they can be used for up to several years. You can store your dried herbs whole, or you can crumble them up. Smaller flakes of dried herbs are great in a salad dressing, whereas whole herbs can be used as a garnish.
Dried herbs can be used in any recipe where fresh herbs are called for—and more. Dried herbs are packed with even more flavor per tablespoon than fresh herbs, so if you’re following a recipe, you can usually substitute fresh herbs for one-third the amount of dried herbs. That means if the recipe calls for one tablespoon of thyme, you can use one teaspoon of dried thyme.
There are many ways to use dried herbs in your cooking. Try sprinkling dried oregano, basil or thyme into a store-bought pizza sauce to add more flavor. Crumble rosemary onto roasted potatoes. Mix your dried herbs together to make your own spice blend. The chefs at MasterClass have made this great list of common herbs and how they can be used.
If you have plenty of herbs to dry, make your own herb drying rack at home.
The most important consideration for your herb drying rack is ventilation. Your plants need to have plenty of access to air flow to be able to dry well. Make sure whatever you use allows air to circulate around the herbs that are drying.
You can create a great space for hanging herb bundles with just some string and a few clothespins. In a space that is dry, ventilated and out of direct sunlight, stretch some twine between two nails or hooks. Use clothespins to clip the herb bundles you made to the string or tie them directly to the twine using extra string.
You can also use a clothesline to hang herb bundles. If your clothesline is outside, put your herb bundles in paper bags with ventilation holes to keep the herbs from losing flavor and color in the sunlight. And make sure to bring your herbs back inside if it looks like it’s going to rain!
Mesh drying screens can be used air drying herbs by laying them out over the mesh and suspending the mesh in a place where air can circulate above and below each leaf.
To create a mesh herb drying rack, take any wire mesh or screening and fit it to a frame, whether stapling it to a wooden picture frame or circling it with a metal wire. Hang the mesh by attaching the corners of the frame to a central hook and suspending it from a handle. Or set the frame so it is bridging two supports, such as two boxes or book stacks, such that air can get underneath the screen.
Drying your own herbs is an easy and satisfying way to enjoy Life Out Here. To jump in, take a look at our selection of herbs for your garden—and your kitchen.