I love cooking with fresh herbs from my garden, but unfortunately, up here in New England I’m not able to grow these plants year-round. Drying excess herbs in the summer when they are fresh, and storing them for winter use, allows me to get the most out of my garden even in later months.
There are several techniques to dry herbs, and some work better than others for different types of plants. Air drying is the most simple, and perhaps the best if you don’t have a lot of time. It works best for herbs that have sturdier leaves and lower moisture content like rosemary, thyme, sage, or lavender, but with a little extra monitoring and good air flow, leafier herbs like basil, parsley, and mint can be dried using this method as well.
To start, pick some herbs from your garden, wash, and lay out on paper towels to dry completely. For the larger leaf varieties like basil, sage and parley, pull leaves from the main stem to reduce internal moisture flow into the leaves while drying. Gather your herbs into small bundles, and tie together using twine or string.
Hang your bundles upside down in a place that gets good air flow. Indoors is usually better as humidity outdoors can be very variable, and direct sunlight can bleach out color and flavor. If you like, you can cut a hole in the bottom of some small paper bags and drape these over each herb bundle to keep the dust off. (I chose not to this time, but it can be helpful). Leave your herbs hanging to dry. This can take anywhere from 10 days to several weeks, depending on the type of herb and the humidity and air flow in your area. Hot and dry is obviously best for this process, but we can’t always control the weather! Check them every few days, particularly the leafier greens, to make sure that no mold is developing. (If you do get mold on any of your herbs, throw them out and start over!)
Herb bundles will feel dry and crunchy to the touch when fully dried. Some retain their green color better than others. (If you are not having success with your more tender leaved herbs, you may want to try a quicker drying method, such as oven drying.)
To prepare dried bundles for storage, remove the dried leaves from their stems and crush. You can use a mortar and pestle for this, or just your fingers.
Store your herbs in airtight containers for later use. I love these pretty glass jars for mine, since we have open shelving for spices in our kitchen. When you are using theses herbs later in your fall and winter recipes, be sure to crush them up a bit more just before using to release the flavors. Also keep in mind that dried herbs are stronger, so you can use a bit less than you would when cooking with fresh.
Learning this process is all about trial and error, but its really fun, looks pretty, tastes great, and can save you a bit of money on your grocery bill. I can’t wait to make some fall soups with mine!