Herbs are usually readily available if you know what to look for, but regardless of the purpose they serve, there’s a general way of drying them. Though it may seem simple enough to not need directions, there are several factors to consider when drying herbs. It’s important to dry herbs without losing color and flavor. Careful monitoring and control of moisture can also prevent bacterial and mold infestation.
This article will walk you through the whole process from selecting your herbs to storing them. This serves as a general guideline only and some herbs may require more detailed instructions. The methods below are sufficient for most commonly used herbs.
In selecting the best herbs for drying, choose the ones that retain their flavor even when dried. Thick-leafed herbs found in hot, dry climates such as rosemary, thyme, savory, marjoram, and oregano dry well. Celery, mustard, chervil, and cumin seeds can be dried. Chamomile, lavender, geranium, and marigold have the best flowers for drying. Try growing all of these in a small garden. It will save you money and when disaster strikes, you will still have an accessible supply for your medicinal and cooking needs.
Once you have a successful herb garden, it’s important to know the best time to harvest them. Pick leaves during mid-morning, before evaporation of essential oils has begun, but after dew has dried. For herbs with small leaves, like lavender, rosemary, and thyme, leaves should stay on their stalks until fully dry. For large leaves such as dill and fennel, strip them off the stalk. Discard old or wilted leaves.
When harvesting seeds, it’s best done when they are brown and hardened but not yet ready to shatter. For flowers, like chamomile and thyme, snip the buds on the first day that the buds open or as close to then as possible.
Machine Drying Methods
Under normal circumstances, you can dry herbs quickly and easily using your basic kitchen appliances. Machine drying will also allow you to produce dried herbs in case you run out and need some pronto. Read on to choose the best herb drying method for you.
Although you probably have used your oven a bunch of times, drying herbs in the oven is not a piece of cake. For starters, the temperature for drying herbs should be set to 100° Fahrenheit. Most oven settings may not go low enough.
In addition, ovens don’t have vents which is important for air to circulate. Air circulation removes moisture which can lead to bacterial or fungal growth in your herbs. Oven drying is labor-intensive and consumes energy, but if you choose this method, you can make do using a thermometer, a wooden spoon, and a little bit trial and error.
First test your oven temperature. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Once it has heated for a little while, turn it off but keep the light on. Use the oven thermometer to check to estimate the time it takes for the oven temperature to cool to 100° and to monitor the time it maintains that temperature.
Once you are able to maintain the temperature correctly, layer the herbs in a cheesecloth over a metal cooling rack or prop the door open so air can circulate. Leave the herbs in the oven for approximately one hour, depending on the quantity and type of herbs. Turn the leaves after thirty minutes to help them to completely dry. This may take a few tries to get it right, so don’t dry all your herbs the first time.
Compared to oven drying, this method is a lot easier and more effective for drying herbs. Place the herbs on a microwave-safe plate lined with two layers of paper towels. Keep in mind that recycled paper towels may contain metal fragments which can cause fires in your microwave. Cover the herbs with another paper towel and microwave them on high power.
For thick, leafy herbs, set the time for one minute followed by repeated 20 second intervals until the leaves are completely dry. For more delicate herbs, set it for 40 seconds followed by 20 second intervals until completely dry. These settings are best when using a half ounce of fresh-picked herbs and an 800-watt microwave oven set on full power. Herbs are completely dry when leaves crumble if you bend them.
This method is by far the easiest to do if you don’t need your herbs immediately. Simply place the herbs in the fridge and let them stay there for a couple of days. The cold temperature will enable the herbs to dry without losing their color, flavor, or fragrance.
Not all households have a food dehydrator but if you have one, this is an obvious way to go. Food dehydrators usually cost around $100 to $200. They are equipped with timers, adjustable temperature control, and a fan for air circulation. To use your dehydrator for herb drying, read and follow the instructions on your dehydrator’s manual.
Air Drying Methods
Using electrical appliances is obviously the most convenient go-to solution, but when SHTF you will also need to learn to dry herbs the old school way, without power. Drying your herbs in the sun is ideal if you are living in a warm, dry climate. But exposing your herbs in humid conditions increases the chances of mold growth. The optimum temperature is 100° Fahrenheit and a humidity of below 60%. Here’s a couple of natural drying methods you can try.
To do this, the leaves still need to be attached on the stem. Tie them into small bundles and wrap loosely with muslin or thin paper bags. Avoid plastic bags to prevent mold. Hang the bundles upside down in a warm dry spot away from direct sunlight to prevent bleaching. Leave them for seven to 10 days, until completely dry. A similar process can be used for drying seeds.
Placing your herbs in a rack dries them faster than hanging them in a bundle. To make your own drying rack, simply place a muslin, cheesecloth, or piece of netting over a wooden frame. Place the tray with the leaves in any warm, airy spot that is not hit by direct sunlight. Let them dry for two or three days. Turn the leaves over halfway through the process to ensure thorough drying.
Storing Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are completely dry, crumble them with your fingers and discard the stalks as well as the midribs. You can also grind them into a powder using a mortar and pestle for your spice mixes. Save some whole leaves or seeds as these can retain oil better than crumbled pieces.
Store in tightly sealed containers for future use. A cool dark pantry or cupboard is best to maintain their color and flavor. These can be stored several months and still be good as new upon using them. Label your containers with the date and name of the herb to avoid confusion later. Check for moisture from time to time to prevent any mold from growing. Throw out anything with mold and re-dry any with moisture.
Using Dried Herbs
When using dried herbs for cooking, use half the amount needed for fresh herbs and quarter as much if the dried herbs are ground. Dried herbs contain oils more concentrated than fresh herbs.
In preparing tea, use a teaspoon to a tablespoon of dried herbs, depending on your taste. Pour boiling water over the herbs and leave it for five to 10 minutes. Using medicinal herbs in tea can work well for treating ailments.
So there you have it. Drying herbs can be pretty quick and simple once you know what to do. This skill is often taken for granted but you never know when it will come in handy. Even in the absence of a SHTF scenario, I still recommend drying herbs yourself. Homemade dried herbs taste better than store-bought ones because they are fresher and more pungent. If you grow them yourself in your garden, even better.
Do you know other methods of drying methods? Do you have specific herbs to recommend? We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to post a comment below.