If you’re following along with our herbal remedies series that just started (check out the intro here), you may want to grow your own herbs (learn how to grow and harvest herbs, here!). If so, you’re going to have a ton of herbs- far more than you’ll be able to use fresh. You’re going to need to preserve them to use throughout the rest of the year. One of the best ways to preserve herbs is to dry them. Here are five drying methods that you can try.
- Hang-drying: This is by far the easiest! As you harvest your herbs (post coming soon!) you simply bunch together the bottoms of the stems/branches, tie them tightly with twine and hang the bunches of herbs. There are a few considerations when deciding where to hang them.
~Dry area– if you put them in a location that is often damp, such as a garage, they will mold and rot.
~Cool area– again, this will prevent rotting.
~Darkness– light will degrade the properties of the herbs.Space- you don’t need tons of space, but air does need to circulate around each bundle.
- Drying Flat: I have discovered that with parsley and dill, no matter how tightly I tie the twine, they slip out and end-up on my basement floor. Not a happy thing. So, I bought one of those mesh clothes hampers (here’s a similar one) and turned it on it’s side. I put one layer of herbs (dill, parsley and calendula blossoms) on the top. The fine mesh kept the herbs elevated while allowing air to circulate. Perfect! 🙂
- Dehydrator/oven: Although it works, this is actually my least favorite method. The herbs just don’t have the same great flavor when heat is used, in my opinion. If you have no good place to hang your herbs, or if you need to dry them quickly, this method will work. Here is a great article on how to dry herbs in the oven. If you want to use a dehydrator, you simply make an even and thin layer of herbs on each mesh-covered tray and turn it to the “herbs” setting (or the lowest available setting). In about five hours, pull out a sprig of herbs, let it cool, then try to crumble it with your fingers. If it’s still flexible/moist, then it need longer. Wait a few more hours and check again. Once the herbs crumble, let them all cool, then gently strip the leaves from the woody stems (for herbs such as rosemary) and store them.
- Fan Drying: This isn’t something I’ve tried, but my aunt said it works especially well for delicate herbs, like basil. It dries the herbs quickly but without heat. Here is what she said to do. First, you’ll need one of those big square floor fans (here’s an image, if you don’t know what I mean). Also, buy several really cheap air filters (the kind for a furnace). Lay the fan down with the front side facing up and put a filter on it. Put a layer of basil, or other herbs, on the filter and put another filter on top. If needed, you can do another layer of herbs and another air filter. Secure the filters tightly with bungee cords, then set it upright and turn it on. The herbs should dry within a day or two and retain excellent color and flavor. Personally, I would have to use filters that I was comfortable with, as far as materials used. I wouldn’t want anything yucky on my herbs. 🙂 If I planned to try this, I would probably figure out a way to use layers of cheese cloth, rather than the air filters, just to be sure that my herbs weren’t coming in contact with anything bad.
- Freeze-drying: This isn’t freeze-drying like you see on a package label. From what I understand, low-moisture herbs (rosemary, savory, thyme, etc.) can be placed, still on the stems, in a bag or jar and put in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, just crumble the herbs up and add them to your food. I haven’t tried this, so please let us know in the comments if you have experience in this area. 🙂
Another great way to keep your herbs in the freezer is to chop them, put them in ice-cube tray, fill the trays with water and freeze them. Once they are frozen, pop them out, put them in a jar/bag and label them. When you need “fresh” herbs, just thaw them or toss them into a recipe, such as soup!