Jon Mychal Heatherly
The Best Way to Dry Your Herbs
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Does your garden leave you with a glut of fresh herbs? Let’s learn how to preserve our extras by air-drying them to save and share.
Pandemic times led to an emergence of hobbies and crafts from home, and many folks found interest in gardening once more. Since being relegated to stay at home, many green-gilled gardeners found ways to grow things rather than buy them. So what happens when you have way more herbs than you can use right now before they lose peak flavor?
Believe it or not, people once relied mainly on what they could raise and grow from home. Subsistence farming remains the case in many parts of the world today, quite frankly. So, back to the point, how do you preserve what excess herbs you have to keep for yourself and share?
Why air dry?
Drying solves the problem of avoiding food waste with plants like herbs, peppers, and bulbs like onions. You benefit from numerous ways to dry herbs, like an oven or dehydrator. Depending on herb type, other options include drying in a paper bag or setting in a windowsill. However, today we discuss the cheapest, easiest, and most traditional way to dry herbs: air drying.
Air drying proves superior to other methods of herb preservation in several vital ways. You retain the quality of essential oils through a slower drying process, and heat drying methods will evaporate oils instead of keeping them. Additionally, air drying costs the least and consumes little energy by having eliminated the heating element.
Optimize flavor by harvesting your herbs at the right time. Minimize stress and wilting by gathering in the early morning after the dew dries. You want specimens with buds of flowers that have not yet blossomed.
Yet, you want them right on the cusp of blossoming. Avoid bruising the cuttings or exposing them to the sun for long. Instead, rinse herbs in cool water, gently shake them dry and proceed to the next stage.
Gather your fresh herbs, twine, and scissors.
Bundle up a single herb, and tie up the cut side with twine.
If the bundle is too thick, you can subdivide it.
Leave a long enough piece of twine to hang from and tie onto a beam or hanger.
Hang your herbs in a warm, dry place out of the direct sun.
Check back periodically over days and weeks. You want leaves to be dry, crisp, and free from condensation. The leaves shrivel, curl, and withdraw throughout this process. While heat drying takes far less time, you lose so much in flavor and oils.
Remember that drying concentrates the herb flavor, so when cooking, use less dried herb than the equivalent fresh herb — 1/3 part dried herbs equals 1 part fresh herbs. Some herbs are best fresh, and some preserve well through drying. Tell the difference by looking at the leaf structure and water content.
Mediterranean herbs like oregano, rosemary, thyme, and sage dry and preserve well. Plants from this region acclimated with thicker stems and leaves to thrive in more arid conditions. Use fresh, thin-leafed herbs like basil, mint, cilantro, and chives, as these examples contain a higher moisture content. Grow hydroponically for year-round fresh herbs, if desired.
Choose from several options to store your dried herbs. Some leave the stems hanging, only using them as needed. You can also clip the leaves and crumble them into glass vials like salt or other seasonings. Be sure the container has a tight-fitting lid, and use dried rice kernels to reduce moisture. Some will infuse olive oil with herbs, and you can do the same to honey.
Go from novice to pro with this simple, easy, and cheap method. Air drying makes your home feel like an apothecary, and it’s also accessible to people regardless of wealth. What you lose in curing time, you gain in quality and reduced costs.
Tried and true methods like air drying herbs continue to resurge as people seek a way to reconnect to our shared humanity and the natural world. You don’t need an expensive dehydrator or the energy costs of heating with an oven. If you have space to grow herbs, you have space to dry them. Try out air-drying them to keep and share today!