Whether you plan to use these herbs for culinary or medicinal purposes, these tips will help you choose the best methods for drying and storing fresh herbs that work for you!
There are several different methods for drying herbs. Click a method below to jump to each section to learn more!
- Harvesting and Preparing Herbs
- Best Methods for Drying Fresh Herbs
- FAQ on Drying Fresh Herbs
- Storing Dried Herbs
- Using Dried Herbs
Each has its own set of pros and cons. The best method for you will depend on the space you have available, and your personal preferences.
If you’re lucky enough to have an herb garden, or even just a few pots of herbs on your windowsill, you know that you could never consume the abundance of fresh herbs during the growing season. It can be difficult to use all of them before they start to wilt and die.
That’s where drying and storing fresh herbs comes in. Not only is it a great way to preserve your herbs at their peak, but it’s also a great way to have your own herbs on hand for all your favorite recipes and herbal remedies.
Harvesting and Preparing Herbs
When to Pick Your Fresh Herbs
In order to get the best herbal properties possible, you must harvest your herbs:
- Early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before it gets hot
- Pick before they flower
Not sure when to harvest your herbs? Burpee lays out this awesome guide for harvesting common herbs:
- Basil – Once the plant reaches 6 – 8” in height
- Chives – Harvest once the leaves are thick
- Cilantro – Once stems are 6 – 12” long
- Lavender – Harvest flower just before full bloom
- Lemon Balm – Any time
- Oregano – Sprigs may be harvested once the plant reaches 3 – 4” tall (best in mid-summer)
- Parsley – Any time
- Peppermint – Any time (best before flowering)
- Rosemary – Any time
- Sage – Harvest only lightly during the first year of growth. Second growing season and thereafter, harvest any time year-round.
- Tarragon – Any time
- Thyme –Any time (best before flowering)
What Kinds of Herbs to Dry
Different herbs dry different ways. Before choosing to dry, make sure you are choosing an herb that dries well. According to Simply Recipes,
Soft herbs with a high moisture content, like basil, cilantro, chives, and mint, aren’t the best for air drying. This doesn’t mean you can’t dry them, but they need to be dried quickly so that that mold doesn’t have the chance to develop. A kitchen dehydrator may be necessary to dry them evenly.
Herbs with a low moisture content like rosemary and thyme are great for drying.
Best Herbs for Drying
- Lemon Balm
How to Prepare Fresh Herbs for Drying
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, you should:
- Rinse herbs in cool water
- Gently shake to remove excess moisture
- Discard all bruised, soiled, or imperfect leaves and stems (and seed heads)
Once prepped, you can choose your desired drying method.
Best Methods for Drying Fresh Herbs
Air Drying Fresh Herbs
Air drying is probably the easiest method for drying herbs, and it’s also a great way to dry a large amount of herbs at once. The best practice is to store in a cool, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.
Hanging Upside Down– Simply tie small bundles of the herbs together with a rubber band and hang them upside down in a well-ventilated place, out of direct sunlight.
- Pros: Looks pretty and takes up little space.
- Cons: Dried herbs can fall off the stem, creating a mess.
Brown Paper Bag– Place herbs in a brown paper lunch bag (or similar paper bag) and place in a cool, dark area until dry.
- Pros: Catches falling herbs and draws out moisture faster than hanging alone.
- Cons: Kind of ugly and you cannot see and enjoy the herbs drying.
Herb Drying Rack– Spread herbs out evenly on a rack with ventilated surface.
- Pros: You can lay the herbs flat and separate them so they dry faster.
- Cons: Takes up a large surface space.
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Heat and Freeze Drying Fresh Herbs
Heating and freeze drying herbs can produce faster results than air drying.
Keep an eye on the drying process and remove herbs from the oven or dehydrator or oven as soon as they are dry. Over-drying can result in a loss of flavor and color.
Oven drying- Lay fresh herbs out on a baking sheet and placing them in a low temperature oven (as low as your oven goes, not above 200 degrees). This method is best for herbs with a high moisture content, such as lemon balm and mint.
- Pros: Quick drying and great if you have no extra space to place the herbs while they dry.
- Cons: Lower moisture herbs may dry out too quickly and may lose some herbal properties if the heat is too high.
Dehydrator- To use a food dehydrator, simply spread the herbs out in a single layer on the dehydrator trays and dry them on the lowest setting. This method works well for herbs that have a high moisture content, such as basil and parsley.
- Pros: Can dry many herbs at once.
- Cons: Need space to store dehydrator and can over-dry.
Freeze Dryer– Many people have recommended the Harvest Right Freeze Dryer for drying many things, to include herbs. I do not personally own one, so I can only comment on the pros and cons.
- Pros: Dries herbs quickly while maintaining most of the herbal properties.
- Cons: Incredibly expensive and takes up a lot of space.
There are many other ways to preserve fresh herbs other than drying including preserving herbs in oil, butter, and salt.
- To dry small, delicate herbs, lay them out on a clean towel or parchment paper to catch the debris and let them dry at room temperature.
- For best results, dry herbs individually, rather than mixed together.
- To preserve the color and flavor of leafy herbs, dry them in the shade or in a dark place, out of direct sunlight.
- Make sure your drying area has good air circulation to prevent mold from forming on the herbs.
FAQ on Drying Fresh Herbs
Storing Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are dry, you’ll need to store them properly to preserve their flavor.
Best Herb Storage Containers
- Mason jars or recycled glass jars
- Amber glass jars (the dark tint will help the herbs last longer)
Just make sure your chosen jar is completely air tight!
Tips for Storing Herbs
- Label the containers with the name of the herb and the date it was dried to keep track of freshness and use the oldest herbs first.
- Store dried herbs away from strong-smelling foods such as onions and garlic to prevent contamination of flavors.
- Store whole or cut, not powdered: Store whole or cut herbs, as powdered herbs tend to lose their flavor faster.
The Shelf Life of Dried Herbs
Do dried herbs go bad?
Dried herbs have a shelf life of 1-3 years, but the exact length of time depends on the herb and storage conditions. Proper storage can help extend the shelf life of dried herbs. Ideal storage conditions include:
- Cool, dark place
- Airtight container
- Away from direct light and heat
- Low humidity
Regularly check dried herbs for freshness, and if they have lost their aroma or flavor, it is time to use them up or replace them.
Using Dried Herbs
- Use your dried herbs in your favorite culinary recipes, bath products, and herbal teas.
- Keep in mind that dried herbs will have a stronger flavor than fresh herbs, so you’ll need to use less of them when cooking.
- Crush or grind before use: Crushing or grinding dried herbs before use releases the essential oils and intensifies the flavor.
When substituting fresh herbs for dried, the Penn State Extension, recommends the following ratio:
- 1 Tablespoon fresh herb = 1 teaspoon dried herb.
My favorite way to use dried herbs: An herbal oil infusion!
Check this out! DIY Lemon Balm and Lavender Body Oil
Preserving your own fresh herbs is a great way to have your favorite herbs on hand all year round, and to enjoy the best flavor of your herbs. Drying and storing herbs is an easy process, and the best way to preserve their freshness, flavor, and color.
Next time you’re at the grocery store and you’re tempted to buy dried herbs, remember that you can easily dry and store your own herbs at home, and enjoy their fresh flavor all year long.
Pin Drying and Storing Fresh Herbs for Later!
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About the Author:
I’m Brittany, totally modern and mainstream turned crunchy mama!
Read more here about how I went from a totally incompetent cook and hyper-consumer to striving to live a more meaningful life from scratch.
I can’t wait to share my modern homesteading journey with you and I hope I inspire you to join along!