Have you managed to grow a large number of herbs in your garden and do not know what to do with them? Or have you purchased some fresh from the supermarket and do not want them to go bad? Drying them is the best way to preserve herbs for future use without wasting them. Knowing how to dry herbs will keep them fresh for years to come. We are going to show you how to dry herbs 6 different ways.
Where is Best to Dry Herbs?
Before you do anything, make sure you pick the right place to dry your herbs. It should be somewhere that is warm and sunny with lots of air circulation. Make certain that airflow will completely encompass the space. You also want to ensure that the drying area and herbs will remain untouched. This includes disturbances from pets, lots of foot traffic and any amount of moisture. If there is any risk of moisture, and the herbs remain wet, do not plan to dry herbs there. How you dry your herbs will depend on what part of the plant you intend to use:
- Whole plant
- Only the leaves and/or flowers
- Berries and fruit
- The root or fruit stones
- Only the stalk/stem
How to Prepare Herbs for Drying?
First, remove any dead or rotting parts of the herb. Anything that is browned, greyed, or wilted comes under this classification. Cut stems or other ends if necessary. Remove leaves, flowers and other growth that does not look good. Then rinse the herbs well in clean, filtered water to remove any chemicals and/or dirt. You may want to add a little baking soda and vinegar in a bowl (or your sink if you have a large quantity) with warm water. Let them sit in the solution for about a minute and then rinse with clean, filtered water. Take a piece of microfiber towelling or paper towel and pat the herbs dry, as much as you can.
How to Dry Herbs?
There are a few ways that you can dry herbs, starting with the more simple and traditional ones all the way through to those that have a need for technology due to the number of herbs that they need to dry. Keep Reading to see how to dry herbs and keep them fresher for longer.
1. Screen or Rack
Using a screen or a rack with many holes is the best and most common way to dry herbs. These are easy to find or you can create your own. There are many racks you can buy specifically for herbs. But these can get quite pricey. An old window screen is perfect for drying. But if you do choose to use an old window screen, make sure that it is clean and dry before using it for herbs. Anything with a great many holes in it will work well as a drying screen for your herbs. You must make sure it is clean and sanitary before you use it. If there are things flecking off it that you cannot remove, clean or scrub, do not use it. Find something else.
This method is good for drying all parts of a herb. Take note, though, if the holes of your screen are large, you will not be able to dry tiny leaves and flowers because they will fall through as they dry. You can put paper towelling or cheesecloth over the screen to fix the problem. You can set this outside during the day so long as it is sunny, dry and with no chance of high winds. It will take about two to eight weeks to dry your herbs depending on the size, thickness, and part of the plant.
Note: The screen or rack should be placed in a location with good air circulation, away from direct sunlight to prevent the herbs from losing their colour.
Another popular method (and our favourite) for drying herbs is hanging them by the stem. All you need is some thin hemp rope, shoestrings, ribbon, or another type of string. You could even get creative with twist ties or rubber bands. Gather a group of stems so that the bunch makes no more than the size of a penny. Wrap the end with your string. You may need to weave the string between each stem and then wrap it around the entire circumference of the bunch to ensure they do not fall as they dry. The caveat here is ensuring there is good airflow around the entire herb. Do not put it against a wall because rotting can occur and leave a stain on your wall. This method can take anywhere from two to eight weeks depending on how big the stems are and how dense the bunch is.
Note: The herbs should be grouped in small bundles to ensure even drying. Large bundles can trap moisture.
3. Oven Drying
Oven drying is excellent for leaves and flower petals as well as roots, fruit stones and berries. Cover a tray or cookie sheet with muslin, cheesecloth or even parchment paper and spread the herbs in a single layer to ensure even drying. Only the lowest temperature available will work for this. Do not use high temperatures as this may burn the herbs. To allow moisture to escape, prop open the oven door. After 30 minutes, turn them over to ensure complete drying on all sides of the herb. Even though most herbs should complete drying within an hour, some things, like berries and roots, may take longer.
Note: When oven drying herbs, ensure you check the herbs regularly to prevent them from burning.
4. Drying with a Microwave
Microwave drying is a wonderful and fast way to dry a small number of herbs but best done for leaves, flowers, and other small pieces because getting it right can be tricky. Over-microwaving can cause the herbs to lose their essential oils. Take a paper towel and place it inside the microwave. Create a single layer of herbs on the paper towel and make sure they are well-spaced. Put another piece of paper towel on top and turn the microwave on high for 30 seconds. After 30 seconds, allow the herbs to sit and rest for a minute. If they are not quite dry, continue to heat in 30-second intervals with a 1-minute rest until they are completely dry.
5. Electric Dehydrator
If you are looking to dry your herbs quickly or do not have the space to dry them slowly, an electric dehydrator is a great solution. Drying time will vary but a good estimate is that leafy herbs may take 1-2 hours, while thicker herbs like rosemary might take 3-4 hours. Every machine is different so, you will have to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and suggestions for drying herbs. This is also a great tool for drying large quantities of fruit too. Click here to check Price on Amazon (Opens in a new tab)
6. Dessicant Drying
While many herb enthusiasts are familiar with traditional drying methods like air drying or using a dehydrator, there’s another method that’s gaining traction due to its effectiveness, especially for delicate herbs: desiccant drying. This method utilizes moisture-absorbing substances to expedite the drying process, ensuring that your herbs retain their vibrant colours and potent flavours.
What is Desiccant Drying?
Desiccant drying involves using substances that readily absorb moisture from their surroundings. These desiccants help draw out the moisture from herbs, allowing them to dry faster and more uniformly than some other methods.
How to Use Desiccants for Drying Herbs
- Choose Your Desiccant: Common desiccants include silica gel, sand, borax, and cornmeal. Silica gel is particularly effective and can be found at craft stores or online. It’s reusable and doesn’t leave any residue on the herbs.
- Prepare Your Herbs: As with other drying methods, ensure your herbs are clean. Gently rinse them, pat dry, and remove any damaged or discoloured leaves.
- Layering: In a shallow, airtight container, lay down a layer of your chosen desiccant. Place your herbs in a single layer, ensuring they don’t overlap. Cover the herbs with another layer of desiccant.
- Seal and Store: Seal the container and store it in a cool, dry place. Check your herbs periodically. Depending on the herb and the desiccant used, drying can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
- Retrieving and Storing: Once dried, gently remove your herbs from the desiccant and brush off any excess. Store the dried herbs in airtight containers away from direct sunlight.
Benefits of Desiccant Drying
- Preserves Colour and Flavour: Desiccant drying is gentle on herbs, helping to retain their natural colour and robust flavour.
- Effective for Delicate Herbs: Herbs like basil, mint, and chives, which can sometimes lose their vibrancy with other drying methods, benefit from desiccant drying.
- Controlled Environment: Since the herbs are sealed in a container, there’s less risk of contamination or exposure to external elements.
Tips for Desiccant Drying
- If using silica gel, you can rejuvenate its moisture-absorbing properties by baking it in an oven at a low temperature for a few hours.
- Always ensure your container is airtight to maximize the effectiveness of the desiccant.
- Desiccant drying might be an additional step compared to traditional methods, but the results — vibrant, flavorful herbs — are well worth the effort.
How to Store Herbs
Once your herbs finish drying, store them in an airtight container. It should be glass, but plastic will do. Keep them in a cool, dry, and dark place to ensure continued freshness. You will know when they have dried properly when you crush them, and they disintegrate like a handful of cornflakes.
Knowing how to dry herbs with any one of these tricks, tips and techniques will ensure you preserve them so that you can continue to enjoy them all through the winter and beyond. If you do it right, you could be using them for many years. A study completed in 2019 states that different herbs may benefit from different drying methods and there is no one-fits-all solution.
Garden Doctor Tips
“If you live in a humid area and want to hang-dry your herbs, it is probably best to use an airing cupboard where it is warm and dry!”
“Make sure to label your herbs whilst they are drying. Dried-up green leaves all look the same!”
“Use an elastic band around the stems of drying herbs. As the herbs dry, the stems will shrink but with elastic, you will not need to worry about them falling!”
“Store the leaves whole instead of crushing so every time you use them, you get that freshly crushed aroma!”
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you dry fresh herbs?
The best and oldest way is to hang them up to dry. Gather a bunch by the stems, tie it with elastic and hang for 2-4 weeks until dry and crisp.
Ensure that you are not drying your herbs in humid conditions as the moisture in the air will prevent drying.
Do you wash herbs before drying?
You should certainly wash herbs before drying them out as they cannot be cleaned once dried. Washing is done to remove any little nasties that may be hiding in there.
Rinse well in clean cold water and pat dry with a paper towel before drying.
Is it better to dry or freeze herbs?
It is much better to dry herbs. When you are cooking, dried herbs will give you a much stronger flavour, therefore, meaning that you will use less of them.
You will need three times the amount of fresh or frozen herbs than if the herbs are dried beforehand.
Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.