How to dry fresh herbs from the garden will vary based on the tools you have on hand. Hanging herbs to dry (or air drying), dehydrating herbs, freeze drying herbs, oven drying herbs, and even drying herbs in a paper bag will allow the garden’s harvest to be enjoyed for years to come.
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The most bountiful item a garden is herbs. Regardless of the type of herb grown it provides multiple harvests throughout the growing season. Not to mention, many herbs are perennials and under good, and bad, circumstances they return year after year.
When planning a garden the first items to plant are perennials, and luckily herbs are just that. Herbs serve both culinary and medicinal purposes, making it necessary to plant a large variety to fill what is needed. As the growing space expanded it was necessary to sneak herbs into the garden while maintaining the look I desired.
Easy to Grow Garden Herbs
- peppermint, lemon balm, and chamomile – tea
- oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram – culinary and medicinal purposes.
- flowers such as calendula, lavender, echinacea, feverfew, and roses for rosehips – medicinal for both livestock and people
However, it was the ability to harvest weeds such as plantain, purple cover, and dandelion that encouraged me to learn more about how to dry not only fresh herbs, but also beneficial weeds.
Learning how to dry fresh herbs it is important but it necessary to store them correctly which allows them to be stored long-term. There is no better feeling than being able to pull dried herbs from the pantry or apothecary for years to come.
My book, The Farm Girl’s Guide to Preserving the Harvest, walk you through every aspect of home food preservation, including a detailed chapter on drying foods. If you don’t have a copy, grab one from my website or online at Amazon, Target, or Walmart.
How to Dry Fresh Herbs
It is important to select the best method for drying herbs. On the contrary to what the world of Pinterest states, hanging herbs to dry is cannot be achieved with all herbs and weeds. Some leafy greens brown quickly, losing their vibrant green color as they hang to dry. Dehydrating herbs is the best option for delicate leafy greens such as comfrey.
Why is this unappealing? Many herbs are used in salves and tinctures, a dried brown leaf hinders the color, smell, and potency of the final product.
Selecting the right appliance to use for drying herbs will depend on the following:
- is there a space available to hang herbs for a period of time
- do you have a dehydrator which is efficient without over or under drying herbs
- will the herbs and weeds be used for medicinal purposes
- is the cost of electricity a factor in drying herbs
Unfortunately sun drying herbs did not make the list for drying herbs on a screen or hanging herbs to dry. Herbs and beneficial weeds are quite delicate once they have been cut from the plant. Drying herbs and weeds in the sun will cause them to burn, making them unpleasant in taste, odor, and color.
Air Drying Herbs
There is something very old world and romantic about hanging herbs to dry throughout the home. Not to mention, the intoxicating scent of the essential oils released from the herb is at times, intoxicating. As romantic as the notion is to air dry herbs there are a few things to know before hanging herbs to dry.
Air drying takes the longest amount of time to dry herbs and flowers, but it works extremely well. This method does not requires heat to complete the job, making it easy to dry items within the house.
Air dried herbs store up to 4 years when stored properly.
Air drying is one of the most economical processes for preserving herbs, flowers, and leafy greens.
- twine, cooking string, fishing line
- drying screen
- hanging racks, coated cable, curtain rod, ceiling hooks, and even an old rake
Where to Dry Herbs
It is important to dry herbs in a location with good air circulation and out of direct sun.
- near a window
- on drying racks
- in the garage or front porch
A Few Tips
To ensure the bunch of herbs being air dried do not mold in the center, follow these tips:
- after washing dry herbs using a salad spinner to remove excess water from the leaves
- create small bunches consisting of 4 to 7 stems, tying the bunches tightly as the stems shrink once they are dried
- hang bunches in a location with good air circulation, or use a fan to help create air flow
When drying herbs on a screen simply follow the steps mentioned above. Keep in mind, herbs and flowers need proper airflow, make sure the items are not touching.
Drying Herbs in a Paper Bag
Drying herbs in a paper bag is a great way to recycle bags from the market. This method is extremely easy and it keeps dust from getting on the drying items. Drying herbs in a paper bag is best reserved to herbs which have a stem, such as:
Flowers have a tendency to mold within a brown bag. Peppermint, comfrey, plantain, and dandelion dry best in a dehydrator due to the leaves browning quickly.
Drying herbs in a paper bag will last up to 4 years when stored properly.
How to Dry Herbs in a Paper Bag
This method for how to dry fresh herbs is fool proof, especially for those who humidity issues. Drying herbs in a paper bag is slightly faster than hanging herbs to dry.
- Using a pen or pencil, poke some small holes throughout the paper bag.
- Gently add the freshly harvested and washed herbs. Do not overstuff the bag. It is important to ensure airflow can occur between the stems and leaves.
- Stable or tie the bag shut using twine or yarn. Allow the herbs to be stored in the brown bag for approximately one to three weeks.
Make sure to check the bags often during the drying time for signs of mold and mildew. The paper bag draws out the moisture from the herbs much quicker than the air drying method.
Dehydrating herbs is the quickest process for drying herbs, weeds, and flowers. With a dehydrator you can be assured that the items are dried in a timely manner. Air circulation is not an issue, the dehydrator fan moves the air within the appliance.
Dehydrated herbs long-term up to 4 year when stored properly.
Selecting the Best Dehydrator
Not all dehydrators are equal in value or functionality. In truth, you get what you paid for. The words I speak come from experience and I wish someone had spoken them to me prior to purchasing my first dehydrator.
Here is some advice on dehydrating herbs.
- fan placement matters, a rear mounted fan dries foods quicker and more evenly
- a box dehydrator allows for multiple functions such as making yogurt or assists to help bread to rise whereas one which has stacking trays does not.
- select a dehydrator with a timer, this ensures the items do not over dry, this is especially important when it comes to dehydrating herbs
An Excalibur dehydrator is worth every penny and meets every suggestion mentioned above. Tower dehydrators, depending on the amount of trays being used, dries foods inconsistently. In addition to this, the fan placement is found at the top or bottom of the dehydrator, making it necessary to rotate trays often to ensure the items dry.
Drying Herbs Slow and Low
To prevent browning or a burnt flavor in the herbs, weeds, and flowers dry the items on low. The drying time will range between 8 to 12 hours, how long it takes to dry will depend on the item. Make sure to consult the dehydrator’s manual for the correct temperature and drying time prior to beginning.
Preserving Herbs Utilizing a Freeze Dryer
Freeze drying herbs is a great method for storing herbs up to 25 years. This means for storing herbs long-term is ideal for herbalists and those who live a more natural lifestyle.
Preserving foods utilizing a Harvest Right home freeze dryer is on the rise, especially within the homesteading, farming, and prepping community. The desire to preserve foods long-term utilizing modern appliances has proven necessary in today’s day and age.
There are many reasons as to why freeze drying foods is beneficial:
- utilizing herbs for medicinal purposes
- natural disaster
- financial hardship
In addition to freeze drying herbs the freeze drier is capable of preserving:
- fresh vegetables and fruit
- meat and seafood
- dairy products including eggs
- prepared meals
Freeze drying and storing foods in an airtight container with an oxygen absorber will preserve herbs and foods for up to 25 years.
Heat can affect taste, color and texture causing your herbs and garden produce to look and taste very different. Freeze-dried food, in contrast, looks and tastes just like the food did when fresh, while maintaining 97% of its nutrients.
How a Freeze Dryer Works
The technology behind a Harvest Right freeze dryer is incredible, which is why freeze drying herbs is necessary. Herbalists worldwide would agree with this.
- A freeze dryer is capable of freezing foods between -30 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place raw or cooked foods into the freeze dryer. The freeze dryer works to freezes the foods between -30 degrees to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Once frozen, the freeze dryer creates a vacuum in the food chamber.
- As the food gradually warms, the water released from the food turns to vapor and evaporates out of the food.
Working a freeze dryer is as simple as selecting the start button, however, manually overriding the automatic setting is also an option. Food items, like eggs, tend to need a longer drying cycle. The process for freeze drying herbs is much shorter than freeze drying fruit and other foods.
Oven Drying Herbs
Oven drying herbs is an option, however, it is not the most practical one. Items as delicate as herbs, flowers, and edible weeds run the risk of browning very easily with the method, causing them to become unusable.
The process can take up to 4 hours to thoroughly dry herbs in the oven, make sure to leave schedule the appropriate time to complete the drying job. Also keep in mind, drying herbs using this method will cook them, causing them to lose much of their flavor.
Is this the most practical method? No, but in a pinch this method will work.
Oven dried herbs store long-term up to 4 years when stored properly.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
- Place washed herbs onto a baking sheet no higher than 1 inch.
- Herbs will take 2 to 4 hours to completely dry, check leaves for dryness after the first 2 hours.
Unlike the other methods mentioned oven drying herbs is not the most practical. Drying herbs in the summer months adds heat to an already warm home, not to mention, this method monopolizes the oven for hours at a time.
How to dry fresh herbs for long-term storage is extremely easy to achieve. By properly store these items they will maintain their freshness for years to come.