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Why Dry Your Herbs?
First and foremost, drying herbs economically prudent. As you may have noticed, both fresh and dried herbs can be rather expensive in the grocery store. Dried herbs will maintain their potency for up to one year. So whether you’re growing your own herbs or buying them fresh, drying them just makes sense. All you need is air circulation.
Perhaps a more important reason to dry your herbs is safety. Dried herbs are safe from yeast, mold and harmful bacteria that feed on the natural moisture of plants.
Choosing Your Herbs
Below is a list of herbs that are highly recommended for drying. Please note that certain herbs retain their potency better when frozen.
Herbs that Should Be Frozen
How to Dehydrate Herbs At Home
Herb Drying Basics
Get your herbs, either from your garden or your favorite grocer. For optimal flavor retention, you should cut your herbs in mid-morning, as soon as the morning dew dissipates. Clip only your healthy herbs. Be sure to remove any sickly or wilted leaves.
After you have fresh herbs, begin washing them. This is an essential step if you buy herbs at the store rather then growing them in your own garden. If you grow them in your garden or purchase them from a trusted supplier, then you know your herbs are safe. In that case, washing isn’t necessary. Unfortunately, many farmers use growth chemicals and or pesticides on their produce. So unless you’re entirely sure that your herbs are organic, please wash them first! After you wash them, carefully pat-dry them.
Some people use microwaves or refrigerators to dry their herbs. However, I do not recommend these methods. There are a number of alternative methods that work better, for all intensive purposes.
Using a Food Dehydrator
When selecting a dehydrator for the kitchen, you should take into account your needs, circumstances, and preferences.
Here’s a roundup of some affordable dehydrators.
Stackable Dehydrator Units
Stackable dehydrator units are ideal for people who have little extra storage space. Most stackable models can fit neatly on your countertop and are comparable in size to a microwave. Many people prefer stackable dehydrators because they’re usually the cheapest of the home-drying units.
Stackable dehydrator units are convenient, yet they have setbacks as well. These have either base-mounted or rear-mounted fans that blow hot air either vertically or horizontally. This creates a problem of uneven heat distribution. Hence, the herbs closest to the fan will dry much faster than the herbs furthest from the fan. When you are using a stackable dehydrator unit, you have to pay close attention to the drying process until complete. You will need to frequently rotate the trays for even drying.
Box-and-Shelf Stacking Units
Some box-and-shelf stacking units use a fan, while others use convection drying. Convection drying is more practical, green and economical. They utilize less electricity than stackable dehydrator units, and they run silently. However, even box-and-shelf stacking units that use a fan for drying do not encounter the same problem of uneven drying that stackable dehydrator units do.
There are several other advantages of box-and-shelf dehydrators that are worth mentioning. Convection units erase the possibility of contaminating your herbs with dirt, dust, pollen or mold particles that fan-drying units can suck in. However, using a fan-drying dehydrator in a clean and sterile environment will take care of this problem.
Another advantage of using a box-and-shelf unit is that it is multi-purpose. Larger box-and-shelf units can be used to culture yogurt, leaven bread and dehydrate larger items like meats, fruits, and vegetables.
If money is a problem for you, remember that you get what you pay for and you don’t get what you won’t pay for! That principle is true with anything in life. I believe that anything that saves you time, helps you be more efficient, reduces a burden and gives you excellent results is an investment worth making.
Follow the directions for use for your specific dehydrator unit and be sure to read the instruction manual carefully before drying your herbs.
Indoor Air Drying
Indoor air drying is the easiest and most economical of all the ways to dehydrate your herbs. The process is simple and straightforward. Here’s how you can do it.
- Get some twist ties, such as the kind you use to tie your trash bags. These will come in handy because your herbs will shrink as they dry. You can keep adjusting the twist ties as the shrinking process occurs.
- Tie the herbs in bundles around the stems, wrap them in a paper bag and hang them upside down. Be sure to punch holes in the bag for ventilation.
- Avoid hanging your herbs in the kitchen. Instead, find a cool, dry place. An area of the house where there is a dehumidifier running is ideal, but not necessary.
Give a gift to your neighbors
A freshly dried herb bundle makes a great gift. Here’s how to make it. Punch a hole through the bag with a hole punch. Cut an eight-inch piece of colorful ribbon. Using a pair of scissors, place your thumb behind one blade and place the ribbon on the open side of your index finger on your opposite hand. Firmly glide the open blade of your scissors across the ribbon, and it will frill. These make cute, decorative gifts that will reach the heart of the receiver.
Oven drying your herbs is the most common, probably because most people have ready access to one. Yet, oven drying is the least-green method for dehydrating our herbs.
I advise against this method. However, if you do need to use an oven, here are some tips for you.
- Herbs need to be dried at a low heat, approximately 100° F. Unfortunately, most ovens don’t have a heat setting below 250° F. This will require some creativity on your part.
- Try placing the oven on the lowest heat setting and prop the oven door open slightly with a wooden spoon. This will reduce the internal temperature of your oven and allow airflow inside. You need airflow!
- Place your herbs directly on a metal sheet tray. Have a spatula or a pair of tongs close by and flip your herbs once every two minutes.
- Stay close by and watch your herbs carefully. Experiment with small batches at first until you fully understand how your oven dries your herbs
Solar drying herbs is a preferred method by some. It’s undoubtedly the most natural way to dry them. Unfortunately, solar drying is contingent upon climate. Desert climates are ideal for drying herbs because the air is hot and the humidity is low. Here are some helpful insights for those of you who want to dry your herbs with sunshine.
- Place your herbs between two drying screens and set them inside of a box. The screens will keep your herbs from blowing away when the wind blows. You can also dry them by the windshield of your car on a hot day.
- Have a balance. You want your herbs to get direct sunlight, but too much direct sunlight can bleach your herbs.
- Build a homemade solar food dryer. You will need stackable drying screens, a glass top to retain radiation, an absorber plate that emits heat, and a vent for adequate air circulation.
How to Store Your Dehydrated Herbs
As much attention to proper storage is needed as attention to proper drying technique is. Storing your dehydrated herbs correctly is just as important. Here are some easy-to-follow tips for storing your fresh-dried herbs.
- Make sure your herbs are stored in airtight containers. If you’re using a ziplock bag, I recommend vacuum sealing them.
- Store your herbs in smaller batches. This way you don’t expose all of your herbs to air every time you want to use a little.
- Date and label your herbs as soon as you package them.
- Store whole herb leafs. Crush the leaves at the time of use. This technique will ensure optimal taste.
- Immediately discard any dried herbs that show signs of damage, mold or discoloration. Use your best judgment here.
- Remember that herbs shrink when dried. Therefore, you don’t need quite as much dried herb as you would fresh herb. A good standard ratio is about one teaspoon of dried herbs in place of one tablespoon of fresh herbs.
- Most importantly, always remember the three enemies of dehydrated food; air, sunlight, and moisture. Store accordingly.
For more tips on storage, read our article on storing dehydrated food.
Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels