Dry Your Own Herbs

Grow and preserve herbs for myriad benefits, including tastier meals
BY Jose Rivera TIMEApril 6, 2022 PRINT

Herbs provide quick, versatile, and easy ways to flavor food. From a little oregano and basil in an Italian dish, to dill and thyme in oven-baked salmon, the possibilities are endless. Humans have used herbs as far back as 60,000 years ago—long before written records. Archeological discoveries from various burial sites show a history of the knowledge and use of herbs medicinally and otherwise. There are cave paintings in France dating back at least 13,000 years that depict various herbs; and by the time of the Greeks, around 700 B.C., the herb industry was thriving.

There are many advantages to growing your own herbs. Some have quick growth cycles: Basil can begin to germinate after just four days and can be harvested when it is 6 to 8 inches tall; cilantro germinates in seven to ten days and can be harvested after three to four weeks. Various herbs can be used for more than just cooking: Dried herbs put in cloth satchels around your home can keep mosquitos and flies away; dried lavender placed in closets can repel moths. Herbs have been used medicinally for millennia as well, from steeping certain herbs to make tea for a tummy ache or headache, to burning bay leaves for anxiety reduction.

There are several ways to prepare herbs for long-term storage and use. The oldest and easiest method of food preservation is drying. All herbs can be dried to preserve their flavor, and to use in cooking and medicinal folk remedies.

Air Drying Herbs

The traditional way to dry herbs is in the open air. Simply bundle them and hang them upside down for a couple of weeks until they are dry. This allows the herbs to retain as much of their essential oils as possible, without compromising flavor, which is important because the oils contain flavonoids you want in your food, and they have medicinal properties as well. Using this method will take anywhere from one to two weeks for the herbs to dry completely. There are a few considerations, such as location, and how much direct sunlight is allowed on the herbs as they dry, but these are relatively easy to handle. This process is straightforward and involves no special equipment—just some twine, a pair of scissors, and possibly some regular tape to get started.

The first step is to harvest your herbs as usual. If you want to clip them and let them continue growing, just clip them as close to the stems as desired, then rinse your clippings and give them a little time to dry. If you decide to use store-bought herbs instead, make sure they’re organic, and give them a good rinse when you get home.

Your next consideration is where to dry your herbs. You will want to find a place with indirect sunlight and enough airflow to work the drying process; these factors help retain the essential oils in the herbs. Airflow is also important because your herbs could get moldy if there is too little of it.

When you’re ready to prepare your herbs for drying, begin by gathering them in small bundles. Using twine, tie each bundle together about an inch from the bottom, ideally leaving enough string to use for hanging. You can use a dowel, a hanger, or even another string to hang each bundle from an anchor point, where it can be left to properly dry. Small paper bags present an alternative option for hanging your herbs to dry. The bags should allow air to pass through, while protecting your herbs from dust and pests, and they can be labelled for easy identification.

After your herbs have dried for about one to two weeks, you can pluck the leaves and store them in containers for future use. You may also wish to add desiccant packets to your herb containers to help keep everything nice and dry.

Epoch Times Photo
Herb drying times vary depending on the type of herb and humidity levels in your home. (Jan Antonin Kolar/Unsplash)

Oven Drying

The time needed to dry herbs can be significantly reduced by using your oven. This is the next best option for making your own dried herbs. The only real difference between this and air drying is that some of the flavorful essential oils within the herbs will evaporate.

Epoch Times Photo
Oven drying herbs reduces drying time to an hour or so. (Ron Lach/Pexels)

This method is simpler than air drying in that there is almost no prep aside from rinsing your herbs and turning on your oven to its lowest setting. After rinsing, lay the herbs in a single flat layer on a cookie sheet, pizza sheet, or other oven-safe tray and place it in the oven. Drying times will vary depending on the herb but, as a general rule, check the progress every 30 minutes and, if needed, flip the herbs so they don’t burn. You can determine when the process has finished by taking a leaf and bending it; if it cracks apart, then that herb is dry enough to remove and store.

Food Dehydrator

Using a food dehydrator is another option when drying herbs. This method is almost the same as using an oven, with just a few differences. Food dehydrators are designed to have better temperature control, and they have a wider range at lower temperatures; both properties make them better suited for drying, compared with ovens designed for cooking.

Herbs are prepared the same way as when using an oven. The major difference when using a dehydrator is that you don’t have to check on your herbs every 30 minutes. You can leave them unattended, due to the lower heat and better temperature regulation. Most people just prepare everything before they go to sleep and leave the dehydrator running overnight. The low temperatures—like being outdoors on warm summer days—pose no danger of burning the herbs.

When using a dehydrator, you should set the temperature between 95 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit for the best results. Food dehydrators come in two major styles: one is stackable, with its heating element at the bottom of multiple layers, through which heat is pushed; the other is more like a toaster oven, with various heating element arrangements, and removable trays in a frame.

Whatever method you choose, dried herbs add so much to your cooking—and to your home in general. Drying them yourself ensures that you get the highest-quality, longest-lasting, tastiest herbs for all your needs.

Jose Rivera
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