Drying herbs from your garden is a great way to take advantage of your harvest and so you can then use those herbs later in your kitchen. Fresh herbs can die quickly, but drying them allows you to preserve them longer for later use, retaining flavor and preventing waste. Great goals for any gardening or homesteader.
Drying herbs when they’re fresh allows you to retain the flavor for later use. And bonus, when your herb garden is out of season, you’ll still have plenty of flavorful herbs to use in your kitchen. It’s best to dry herbs immediately after harvesting them to retain their flavor giving your dishes even more of a punch later on.
SLCG PRO TIP: If your herb garden is outside, you’ll want to wash the leaves and stems and pat them dry with a paper towel before starting the drying process to make sure they’re free of insects and dirt.
While you can dry almost any herb for later use, some herbs retain their flavor more (and longer) than others, making them a better choice. Herbs that have a strong flavor when fresh can retain that flavor when they’re dried. Because of that, dried herbs tend to concentrate the flavor so you can use less of them in your recipes than if you are using fresh herbs.
Best Herbs for Drying
We’ll look at several methods and some simple tips you can use for drying herbs, but before we dive in, let’s go over some of the herbs that will retain most of their flavor in drying:
Keep this list in your food presentation binder so you can remember where to best put your efforts when filling and stocking your homestead pantry. This “best herbs to dry” list is a great way to ensure your work is going towards spices that will taste just as good later as they do now.
Harvesting Herbs for Drying
One of the reasons I love my kitchen herb garden is because the seasonings I need are right there all the time. But just because I am growing them doesn’t mean I won’t be filling my pantry with dried herbs too. The good news is when you grow your herbs indoors you can harvest at any time which means you will always have the very freshest herbs to use for drying.
Harvesting herbs at just the right time will ensure their flavor later on.
When is the best time to harvest herbs from outside:
- Harvest herbs before the weather changes. By late summer herbs will start to decline as the weather turns to cooler temperatures so herbs that are planted outdoors will need to be harvested. You’ll also want to harvest before they flower if they’re a flowering herb.
- Timing is everything. There is a right time of day that makes harvesting herbs better; after the morning dew has dried and before they start to wilt in the afternoon sun. Plan a day to harvest when you can clip your herbs after sunrise and before early afternoon.
- Be selective. Cutting back too much at once can be damaging to the plant. Unless you’re replacing or removing the entire plant, never remove more than one-third of its branches at a time.
The Proper Tools for Harvesting Herbs
You’ll need to gather a few tools before you harvest your herbs so that you’re ready to start drying when they’re freshly harvested.
- Garden scissors or pruning shears
- Airtight containers and labels – glass canning jars work best but plastic storage containers or bags will work as well
- Rubber bands or string for air drying
- Paper bags or food dehydrator for air drying
- Cookie sheet for oven drying
- Cheesecloth and wooden frame for rack drying
- Paper towels for microwave drying
By this list, you can see there are various ways to dry herbs and you’ll need different equipment for each method so be sure to decide how you will dry them before you harvest them.
SLCG PRO TIP: If you have never dried herbs before, don’t fill your cart with supplies just yet! Read through the rest of this article before you decide on the method you would like to use. Then jump back up here and only buy the exact supplies you need to begin drying herbs for your pantry.
Which Drying Methods Work Best for Each Herb
Air drying herbs – The paper bag method is best for herbs that don’t have a high moisture content like dill, oregano, rosemary, bay, marjoram, and thyme. For herbs with a higher moisture content like basil, mint, chives, and tarragon, try the food dehydrator method or the oven drying method.
Oven drying herbs – This method is easy and all you need is a cookie sheet and your oven. The oven drying method does slightly cook the herbs however, in turn, removing some of the flavors, so you’ll need to use more when cooking with them. Just make a note on the jar so you remember that you used this method.
Rack drying herbs – This is another form of air drying but it requires a warm and airy spot out of direct light like. A pantry or kitchen cabinet will work well for this. A drying rack can be rather large so keep this in mind before choosing this option.
Microwave drying herbs – If you just have a few leaves to dry and want to do so quickly, the microwave method works well. It simply requires a plate and a few paper towels.
Dehydrator drying herbs – This method requires a food dehydrator with mesh racks so the leaves don’t fall through. If you have a dehydrator, this is the best method for bulk drying.
How to Dry Herbs
There are various methods of drying herbs that work well, some better than others depending on how you plan to use them later and how many you’re drying at once. The air drying and oven drying methods are most common for a few different kinds of herbs. Rack drying and microwave drying work well if you just have a few herbs to dry. And the dehydrator method works well if you have a lot of herbs to dry all at once.
Air drying, rack drying, and dehydrating methods will allow the herbs to retain most of their flavor while the oven and microwave methods will slightly cook the herbs, reducing their flavor so you’ll need to use a little more in your recipes.
Let’s take a look at these herb drying methods:
Air Drying Herbs
The air-drying method is probably the easiest method and it’s been used for hundreds of years. This is also known as the hang-drying method. If your herbs were grown outside, clean and dry them well before starting. Then simply tie sprigs or branches together with string or bind them with a rubber band. Keep the bunches small as large bunches can develop mold and the leaves can become discolored. Wrap the bundles in muslin or place them in a thin paper bag. This will help to keep dust out and it will catch any falling leave. If using a paper bag, poke a few small holes in it to allow the air to circulate. Don’t use plastic bags; they can encourage mold growth.
Depending on the size of your herb bundles and the amount of humidity (keep the area dry and free of humidity), the drying process can take one to two weeks. When they’re completely dried, the leaves will be crisp and crush easily in the palm of your hand.
You can also use this method with individual leaves. Poke holes into a paper bag and place your herb leaves inside. Tie the paper bag closed with string or bind it with a rubber band. Allow the bag to hang in a dark, dry area for about a week then test your leaves for dryness. When they easily crumble, they’re ready to store.
Oven Drying Herbs
You can use your oven to help dry herbs quickly while still remaining fragrant. Cover a baking sheet with muslin, cheesecloth, or a silicone mat so the leaves don’t stick and set your oven to the lowest possible temperature, around 200 degrees. Pull the leaves from the stems, clean and dry them, and place them on your baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, turning after 30 minutes for even drying, until the leaves crumble easily. Leave the oven door cracked to allow any moisture to escape. Once dried, leave the oven door cracked so the heat can escape and leave the tray in the oven until the leaves are completely cooled.
Microwave Drying Herbs
Drying herbs in the microwave is easy to do and it’s the perfect way to dry just a few leaves at a time. Start by separating the leaves from the stems and gently wash them if your herbs were grown outdoors then dry them well with a paper towel. Once they’re completely dry, place a clean, dry paper towel on a microwave plate, place your leaves on top of it, and cover with another clean, dry paper towel. Microwave for one minute then check to see if they’re done. If not, continue checking at 20-30 second intervals until the leaves are dried and crisp.
Rack Drying Herbs
The rack method works well if you want to speed up the air-drying method. It allows the leaves and sprigs more space and air circulates around them. You’ll need to make a drying rack by stretching muslin or cheesecloth over a wooden frame and affixing it. A large, unused wooden picture frame works well; simply stretch the cloth over it, pull it tight, and staple it to the outside of the frame. Clean and dry your leaves or sprigs well then place your them on the cloth, spreading them out to make sure air can circulate around them, and place the frame in a warm, dark area away from direct sunlight. A cabinet or pantry works well. Turn the leaves frequently for even drying. Your leaves should be dried and ready to store in two to three days.
A food dehydrator is a great tool for drying herbs in bulk, especially if it has a mesh insert that keeps leaves from falling through. As with the other methods, make sure your leaves are clean and dry then place them in a single layer on each tray of the dehydrator. Cook at the lowest setting for two to four hours until they’re completely dried. Carefully remove the trays over a clean cloth or bowl to catch any broken bits to save and store.
How to Store Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are dried, you’ll want to store them well to make sure they stay flavorful for future use. Here are a few handy tips for herb storage:
- Store the leaves whole and crush them when you’re ready to use them to help them retain more flavor.
- Store in airtight containers. Small canning jars or plastic zippered storage bags work well.
- Label and date your containers so months from now you’ll know exactly what’s in each container and how long you’ve had it. Dried herbs will retain their flavor for about a year when kept in a cool dark place like a cabinet or pantry.
- Throw out any dried herbs with signs of mold, it will only spread to other leaves.
- Keep your containers in a cool dry place away from direct sunlight. If you want to store them on your kitchen counter where you get natural light, use amber-colored canning jars to block light.
How to Cook with Dried Herbs
Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs so you may want to use a little less when cooking with them. Try using a little less when a recipe calls for fresh herbs and taste. It’s easier to add more than take away. As a general rule of thumb, a tablespoon of fresh herbs offers the same amount of flavor as a teaspoon of dried herbs.
When you’re ready to use them in a recipe, if you’ve stored them whole, simply pull the leaves off the stem and crumble the dried leaves right into your pot or mixing bowl.
Use your dried herbs within a year. As they start to lose their color, they’re also losing flavor so keep an eye on them. When their color fades, it’s time to discard them.
Tips for Success
Before drying herbs using any of the methods, these tips will ensure success:
- Remove any dry or diseased leaves from the cut herbs. Yellow or spotted leaves aren’t worth drying as their flavor has already been diminished.
- Remove any leaves with signs of mold. This will spread to the healthy leaves.
- Gently shake the sprigs to remove any insects that may have taken up residence.
- Make sure your herbs are completely dry of moisture before starting any of these methods. If you’ve washed them, they’ve been in the rain, or they have dew on them, pat them dry with paper towels and allow them to air out before drying them. Damp herbs will mold and rot.
Drying herbs is a great way to preserve your harvest for later use in your kitchen or even a craft project liked scented candles or lotions. Dried herbs are also perfect for making rubs for meat and vegetables. Don’t let good herbs go to waste. When you see your herbs are in abundance, harvest and dry them immediately to retain flavor for months to come before they lose their freshness. Freezing or drying freshly grown herbs will ensure that you have plenty of herbs from your garden to use all year long.