How to dry and store fresh garden herbs

Are your windowsill herbs growing too quickly for you to keep up with? Do you buy a bunch of herbs for one meal and leave the rest to go to waste wilting in the fridge? If so, drying your own herbs may be the perfect solution.

Air-drying herbs is easy and inexpensive, but you can also dry them in a food dehydrator or right in your oven.

Types of herbs to dry
Firmer herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme, lavender and lemon balm are easier to dry as their leaves have more structure and they contain oils.

Start with these if you’re new to the practice.

Herbs with softer leaves, such as parsley, basil, mint and tarragon are more affected by moisture and can go mouldy during the drying process.

Read more: The best antiviral herbs to grow at home

When to dry
To avoid the leaves wilting it’s best to start the drying process as soon as possible after the herbs have been picked. This will limit the amount of flavour and colour lost too.

Once picked, break off any discoloured, bruised or damaged leave and discard. Give the bunch a gentle rinse to remove any dirt, shake off excess water and pat dry.

Methods to dry herbs

This method couldn’t be any easier. All you need is some kitchen towel and a flat surface.

Simply lay the leaves, flowers or seeds out on the towel and expose them to warm dry air. Leave the herbs in a well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight until the moisture evaporates. Sun drying is not recommended because the herbs can lose flavour and colour.

Hang drying
This is another air-drying method but is handy if you don’t want to use up table or counter space.

Hang drying works best with herbs such as lavender, rosemary or culinary herbs that have a good strong stem.

Read more: Olive and Rosemary Bread

Simply tie the stems of five to 10 branches together, making sure there is airflow around each stem.

Then hang the herbs upside down in a cool, dry, well-ventilated spot away from direct sunlight. Avoid areas too close to the kitchen, bathroom or laundry as they are typically warm and moist.

Don’t bunch different herbs together as drying time varies. It can take anywhere from five days to three weeks to dry all the herbs, depending on the moisture content of the leaves and the size of the bunch.

You can speed this up by fixing a paper bag over the bunch, this also means any seed heads in your bunches don’t drop to the floor.

You’ll know when the herbs are dried because the leaves become crisp and crumble easily.

For the true herbal enthusiasts out there, you can purchase collapsible mesh racks specifically made for drying herbs.

Oven drying
To dry your herbs in the oven, you’ll need to get it as low as 50 degrees C or 122 degrees F. If your oven doesn’t go that low, residual heat from the oven after you’ve turned it off will do the trick.

Place your herbs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, have the oven fan running, and rotate your tray throughout the drying process.

Ensure you have the oven door open a crack to let the moisture escape. Check them frequently as you want to dehydrate them, not cook them.

As soon as they’re completely dry to the touch, take them out. It will likely take one to two hours.

Dehydrating herbs
Dehydrators are a great option if you are looking to dry herbs often, or if you will use it for other things. They can range in price from $50 to $400, but between $100 to $200 is probably the best choice for most people.

It’s an easy and convenient way to dry herbs because temperature and air circulation can be controlled.

After rinsing herbs and shaking to remove excess moisture, place the herbs in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Drying times may vary from one to four hours. Check your dehydrator instruction booklet for specific details.

Another plus side of a dehydrator is that you don’t run the risk of accidentally cooking them, as you do with an oven.

Read more: The best kitchen appliances as voted by Australians

Storing home-dried herbs
The herbs are ready to be packaged and stored when the leaves are crispy and crumble easily when pinched. Leaves can be left whole or ground with a pestle and mortar.

Store dried herbs in airtight jars in a cool, dry, dark area to protect colour and fragrance.

Always label jars with the date and contents and check for droplets of moisture or mould. Throw out anything mouldy and redry anything that created moisture in the jar.

When using dried herbs in recipes that call for fresh, keep in mind that oils in dried herbs are more concentrated. Use about half the amount of dried herbs in a recipe calling for fresh herbs.

Do you grow your own herbs? What’s your most frequently used herb when cooking?

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Written by Ellie Baxter