Drying herbs is an art that is often needed on the homestead. Not just to preserve the harvest for future use but also to preserve them as a useful bartering tool, for gifting to family or friends, or as a valuable income producing item.
There are many ways to dry and preserve herbs. The way shown in the picture here, bunching and drying upside down from the kitchen rafters, is the method most people think of. Yet, it is not the only way to do it.
Hang drying -Tie small sprigs bunches. Hang the little bunches up to dry, leaves pointed downward, loosely wrapped in muslin, very thin linen, or light paper bags. This will keep out dust and catch falling leaves.
It takes about 10 days for herbs to dry this way.
Rack drying/Air drying – You can dry individual sprigs or leaves of herbs on racks. Stretch muslin, cheesecloth or netting over a wooden frame and staple it in place. Put the tray in a cupboard or in a warm, airy spot out of direct sunlight. Turn leaves daily to ensure they dry evenly. The process should take two or three days.
Microwave drying – Microwaving works best only when drying small quantities of herbs without stems. First, separate the leaves from the stems and let them air dry.
Layer leaves on a paper towel, making sure to not overlap the leaves, on a microwave-safe plate. Place another paper towel on top, then microwave on high for 1 minute. Keep a close watch and stop the microwave immediately if you smell the herbs. Then, heat at 30 second intervals, until the herbs are completely dry.
Oven drying – Herbs like sage, mint, rosemary, thyme and parsley, once their stalks are removed, are suited to drying in the oven. Space out leaves on a cotton muslin-covered tray in an oven set to the lowest possible temperature. Do not dry at higher temperatures, this will remove some of the essential oils. Leaving the door ajar allows the moisture to escape and, on a cold day, helps keep the house warm and smelling yummy.
Turn the leavesafter 30 minutes and dry for another half an hour. Then turn the oven off and leave in the oven to cool.
Food dehyrdrator – A dehydrator can be used with nearly all herbs, however it is best for herbs like basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, and mints. These are herbs that have a high moisture content and if they are not dried quickly they can mold. A dehydrator dries herbs quickly and is perfect for herbs like these.
Begin by removing any long stems. Rinse with cool water and shake the leaves. Place the leaves in a single layer on the dehydrator tray. It is important that all leaves receive good air circulation, so remove any trays that aren’t needed. For the best flavor, dry herbs on the lowest setting possible.