Helpful Tips for Drying Fresh Herbs

Drying Herbs – There’s something deeply satisfying about drying your own herbs. You know they’re fresh because you dried them yourself, and you’ll feel more connected with what you’re cooking because you didn’t just shake the flavor out of a bottle-you were there when it was born, captured and preserved. Here’s a few of my methods and tips when it comes to home-drying fresh herbs.

Oven-drying & Dehydrator

Basil, chives, mint and some of the leafier, high moisture herbs lend themselves to faster drying methods, such as oven drying or dehydration.

The ideal temperature is about 95-100 degrees, but you can go lower in temperature, if you have a dehydrator and you have more time to dry your herbs. The more time an herb takes to dry, the better preserved its oils and flavors are.

Most ovens don’t go below 150 degrees, so you’ll want to keep the oven door open on the lowest setting and check on the herbs periodically.

Check your herbs after about a half-an-hour of drying time to get an idea of how fast they are drying and how much turning they’ll need. Drying times will vary according to humidity and the moisture content of the herbs. Basil can take anywhere from three to five hours in the oven, but rosemary takes from one to three.

While oven-drying basil in a bunch looks pretty, it’s not as efficient as eliminating the stems. Stems store lots of moisture and they don’t contribute to the flavor, so if you want a faster drying time, take off the stems.

Air-drying

Air-drying fresh herbs works best in climates without a high moisture content. Drying times really vary. It can take anywhere from a week to a month to fully dry most herbs. In the Southwest, drying happens really quickly, but in Florida it takes more time and you have to make sure that the herb has been fully dried after washing.

More woody herbs such as rosemary and small leafed herbs such as dill and thyme are the best choices for air drying. Larger leafed plants such as basil tend to go moldy.

If you live somewhere with high humidity, make sure you hang your herbs in very small bundles. With basil or mint I like to get as much air circulation as possible. Fans are great for circulation and help with higher moisture content herbs.

Don’t hang herbs very close to your sink or anywhere that steam or moisture might be.

You can speed up the process by doing a half-and-half method. Dehydrate or oven-dry your herbs about halfway just to get them started, and then hang them to finish the process. I’ve often used this method here in Florida.

Some people like to hang the herbs in paper bags with holes in them, but I haven’t found that to be very practical. Although it does keep dust off your herbs and it helps shield them from light, hanging brown bags in kitchen isn’t very pretty and it doesn’t work as well in more humid climates. Instead, I use transparent netting or cheesecloth, which you can get at any craft store.

I use thumbtacks to secure the string that I’ve tied the bundles with, but you can use more permanent hooks. Always check the herbs periodically because as they dry they shrink and might fall out of the secured bundle. Make sure to tighten your string if need be.

You’ll know your herbs are dry when they become crumbly to the touch.

Other methods

I don’t recommend the microwave oven when it comes to drying herbs. The method of cooking used in microwave ovens is detrimental to the flavor of the herbs and it didn’t turn out well the two times I tried it.

Salt drying is a fun method to use, provided you don’t mind a little salt flavoring to go with your herbs. This method also has the added benefit of flavoring the salt. If you plan to use the herbs with the salt (for a kind of fresh salt seasoning) then you’ll have to chop the herbs up very finely. If not, just chop coarsely or put in the whole leaf. Although drier herbs such as rosemary are recommended, I’ve had basil leaves turn out just fine using this method. Take about a Ã?½- Ã?¼ layer of salt and alternate with thin layers of herb. This method takes about a week and a half.

There are other, crazier methods you can use to dry herbs, such as leaving them in a paper bag with holes in it in a moisture free car on a moderately cool day. As long as the temperature in the car stays below 120 degrees and the car doesn’t have a moisture problem, it seems to work! Of course your car will smell like basil or lavender or whatever herb you choose to dry in it for the day.

Storage and Use

Whatever your method of drying, the best way to store your freshly dried herbs is in your spice cabinet, preferably in an airtight container or baggie. Never store dried herbs in the fridge–it’s simply too moist of an environment. Keep your dried herbs whole until use as crushing them releases oils and fragrance. Dried herbs normally keep for about a year, so it’s prudent to label them. If there’s any sign of mold, throw the herb away!

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