Learn how to dry herbs for cooking and baking in an eco-friendly way to keep store-bought plastic containers out of the landfills and the environment. Even if they’re recycled, it’s a use of resources that can be prevented.
There are four methods of drying herbs to choose from. Each technique is outlined below and you can pick the one that works best for your circumstances. Trying them all will help you decide on your favorite.
Drying Herbs is Sustainable
It’s particularly satisfying to grow and preserve food from your own garden. And, it’s especially true if you’re engaged in the full cycle of composting, growing the plants, and harvesting them, avoiding food waste in the process. Sustainability is part of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
But before we get into the ways to dry your herbs, you’ll need to harvest them.
How to Harvest Herbs
After you’ve tended to your garden and lovingly nurtured your herb plants to get the best results, it’s time to cut them and enjoy the fruits of your labor, whether fresh or dried. Tips for harvesting herbs include:
- You can begin harvesting your herbs when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth afterward.
- Harvest herbs after the dew is dried, but before the heat of the day is high.
- For best flavor and results, harvest your herbs before they flower. Ideally, it’s when they have flower buds that haven’t opened yet.
- Annual herbs can be harvested until frost appears. Stop harvesting perennials about a month before the first frost.
Once you’ve collected your herbs, you can choose a drying method to preserve them for future use in cooking and meals. Fresh herbs are wonderful, but drying them will mean access to them for months after the growing season is over.
1. Oven Drying Herbs
If you opt to dry herbs in the oven, you’ll need to use a low temperature for about 2-4 hours to completely dry the herbs. It’s ideal if you have a new stove with a dehydrating or bread-proofing setting.
Place the leaves and stems spread out in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Then, turn the oven on a low setting, no higher than 180 degrees F, and prop the door open.
To check when they’re done, rub them between your fingers to see if they crumble easily. Remember that oven-dried herbs cook slightly, so you may need to add a little extra to your recipes.
2. Outdoor Sun Drying Herbs
To dry herbs in the sun, you’ll need a screen to lay them on and allow the air to circulate. You can create a DIY drying rack by stapling screening mesh inside a frame or you can use a ready-made old window screen.
You can place the herbs in a location where it is warm and dry. They won’t dry well if the humidity is too high. And, don’t give them too much direct sunlight, or they will bleach and lose flavor.
3. Dehydrating Herbs with a Machine
If you want to have better control over timing and temperatures, you can use a dehydrating machine for drying your herbs. It’s especially useful for high moisture content plants like basil, mint, and oregano.
Canadian Tire and The Home Depot carry several brands of dehydrators. You can choose one that suits your needs and budget. If you use one regularly, you’ll quickly recoup the cost in food savings. Always follow the instructions that come with the machine.
4. Air-Drying Herbs
If you have a space that is warm and dry, preferably with higher ceilings, it’s an excellent place to air-dry herbs. Just tie the stems together and hang them upside down on hooks or strings and let the warm air do its work.
Be Careful of Hanging Herbs in the Kitchen
Hanging herbs to dry in the kitchen seems like a logical thing to do. However, you’ll need to take care that they aren’t exposed to a lot of moisture created from cooking.
Some people place a paper bag or some muslin loosely around the herbs and tie it around the stems. It catches pieces that fall off and protects them from dust.
Create a Nurturing Ambiance
Hanging herbs to dry can even be a very decorative way to create a nurturing ambiance in a room of your home. It conjures up images of simplicity, homesteading, and homecooked meals.
After you’ve done the work of drying your herbs, you’ll need to store them so you can enjoy their flavor over the months that come.
Storing Dried Herbs
The things to watch for with dried herbs are mold and moisture. They need to be completely dry to store well. Label the jars with the contents and date so you can keep track of how long you’ve had them. Dried herbs stay flavorful anywhere from 1-3 years.
Check for Moisture and Mold
For the first few days after you store them in the reusable jars, check for moisture or mold. If there’s moisture, re-dry them and try again. Anything with mold needs to be discarded right away.
You can crumble the herbs before you store them, but some keep their flavor better and longer if you leave them whole until it’s time to use them.
Use the 4 methods outlined above to dry your plants and enjoy the benefits of your labor in meals throughout the year. It’s an eco-friendly and sustainable way to protect the environment.