Drying is an easy and effective way to preserve fresh garden herbs for later use. Drying your own garden herbs gives you fresher and more flavorful seasoning herbs than the dried herbs you buy in stores. Dried herbs are safe from molds and bacteria and retain their pungency for six to 12 months.
To harvest herbs, collect the plants in mid-morning after the dew has evaporated but before the heat of the day causes the herb’s essential oils to evaporate. When harvesting herbs for their seeds, snip the seed heads off the plants when they turn brown and harden, but before they open. Harvest herbal flowers on the day the buds open by snipping off the flowers close to the base. Rinse herbs under cool running water and shake off excess moisture.
Air-dry herbs indoors by tying the stems of several plants together with twist ties. Place the herb bundle in a paper bag into which you punched several air holes. Hang the bundle in a warm, dry location out of direct sun. Alternatively, you can make a drying screen from an old picture frame by stapling window screening to it and covering the screening with cheesecloth. Lay herbs on the cheesecloth and place the drying screen in a warm, dry place with good air circulation. Herbs have finished drying when you can easily crumble them.
You can use the sun to speed drying of your herbs. Place drying screens in a spot out of the wind that gets full, direct sunlight all day and has free air circulation. Best solar drying conditions are a temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity around 60 percent. Spread your herbs out on the drying screens so each bunch gets full sun. Take the screens indoors at night or when rain threatens to avoid moistening from dew or rain.
An electric food dehydrator is an effective tool for drying herbs. Most models have stacking shelves. The simplest machines have a temperature control and a fan to gently circulate air. Set the temperature at 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange herbs on the stacking shelves and turn on the dehydrator. Most herbs will be dry within 4 hours, but some may need all day. Remove the herbs when they are completely dry.
You can use your microwave to dry leafy herbs. Place a sheet of paper towel in the microwave. Snip leaves from the stems and place the leaves on the paper towel. Cover the leaves with another paper towel. Microwave on high power for one minute, allow the herbs to rest for 30 seconds, then alternate 30-second bursts of microwaves with 30-second rest periods until herbs are dry. This should take about 10 minutes.
Store dried herbs in airtight jars. Keep jars out of direct sunlight and away from high heat. Label each jar with the herbs it contains. Check new jars for moisture and mold. Re-dry herbs in jars that show moisture, and throw out moldy herbs. Grind dried herbs with a mortar and pestle just before adding them to foods.
References and ResourcesNational Center for Home Food Preservation: Drying Herbs
Purdue University: Drying Herbs
Mother Earth News: Drying Herbs -- Easier Than You Think
North Carolina State University Extension: Harvesting and Preserving Herbs