Tips on How to Dry Herbs

You can preserve your favorite herbs and flowers by drying and storing them so that you can enjoy them through the winter. For most plants you can tell when they are dry enough for storage when you can bend the stem and it “Snaps” If the stem is soft and bends let it dry a bit more.

Drying culinary herbs is an easy way to preserve them. If done properly you can maximize the aroma and color of your plants. You can dry plants a number of ways. I look at it as two basic categories, fast/manipulative drying and curing/slow drying. For fast drying you speed up the natural drying process with heat and or air movement so that the plants dry in hours instead of days. With curing you dry your herbs slowly in a manor that will allow the cells to continue to live after the plants are harvested and some of the metabolic processes continue. While some cheeses and other specialty foods have enhanced flavor due to mold/fungus, I would suggest never consuming moldy plant matter no matter how much time and energy you put into it. Fast drying minimizes the chances of mold.

Curing is what separates the best from the rest. The curing technique can be done without mold ruining your plants, but the longer it takes for your plants to dry the greater the chance mold will appear. If you don’t have someone to help you with hands on experience, I’d suggest trying a couple different ways and see which you like the best. Some herbs may be best with a fast dry, others you should use the slow technique.

FAST TECHNIQUES: Using a food dehydrator would probably be the easiest and fasted, but I don’t have one and have never used one. If anyone has ever used this I’d like to know how well it works. Some fast dry techniques I have used would be to put the plants in a gas oven with just the pilot light for awhile. You can use an electric oven on low if you leave the door open a crack. To dry your plants in an oven spread your herbs on a cookie sheet and check them every hour or so to see how they are progressing. If you can bend the stem and it “Snaps” they are dry and ready for storage. The big worry with using any oven is you will forget and ruin (cook/burn) your plants. A real tragedy after spending a growing season nurturing your plants.
Another way to dry plants quickly would be to put the plants parts, leaves, flowers whatever you are drying between two or more air filters or window screens and then place this over a large fan propped up on bricks or blocks. SEE PICTURE BELOW This should dry out the plants in a short time and leave them looking fresh. The lack of heat may help keep plants tasting better and you don’t have to worry about the heat ruining your plants. You can stack several screens on top of each other if you have a lot of plant material to dry (I only have two screens in the picture). As long as air can come out the top screen you are ok. Of course the more screens you have stacked the slower the drying will be.

SLOW TECHNIQUES: Many people may prefer air drying or curring because this is easy to do, it does not need electricity but more importantly, it allows herbs to take on their full flavor if a proper drying environment is provided. You can do this by hanging your plants upside down in bunches in a well ventilated attic or room, this is often called bunch drying.  The best conditions for air drying are a room temperature of 70-80 degrees F or warmer and good ventilation to take the evaporating moisture away from the plants. This is usually not the environment in a garage or basement especially in the fall when the weather is cool and in many areas moist. If you live in an area with cool moist fall weather, you could designate a closet or spare room to drying you herbs and put in a fan to help make a proper environment. HTGSupply.com has a “Dry Net” that will fit in a closet or grow tent and dry plants quite well.  Click on the picture below to see more information on the DRY NET

You could also just spread the herbs out on window screens. Be sure to suspend the screens over sawhorses or the backs of chairs. This allows air to move all around the plant for good drying. I have also spread out the plants on newspapers (the paper absorbs some moisture). If you are going to use newpaper turn the plants/leaves each day to ensure even drying and have a fan in the room blowing over but not on the plants. My favorite drying method for small amounts of plants, because it is easy and works for me is to put the plants in a brown paper bag and let them dry. The paper bag lets some moisture escape so you don’t get mold, but does prevent rapid moisture loss so you get a slow curing quality plant.  I do this for plants  I harvest only small amounts of like rosemary or lavander.

I’d like to hear any other drying techniques that you have tried.

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Doc...
I've used the food dehydrator method a couple of times when time was an issue. I wouldn't recommend using this technique, because when herbs are quick dried, the herb loses its fragrance. That is the only downside to this technique. The pros are that the herbs are dried in hours, vs. 1 week...