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How to Dry and Store Your Homegrown Herbs

Hey there! If you’re anything like me, you love using fresh herbs in your cooking and baking. There’s just something about the aroma and flavor of freshly picked herbs that can’t be beat. That’s why I decided to start growing my own herbs – not only is it fun and rewarding, but it also ensures that I always have a fresh supply on hand whenever I need it.

However, as any herb gardener knows, there comes a time when you need to harvest herbs and preserve them to make them last longer. In this guide, How to Dry and Store Your Homegrown Herbs, I’ll be sharing my personal tips and tricks for drying and storing homegrown herbs so that you can enjoy them long after they’ve been harvested.

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My Guide to Drying and Storing Homegrown Herbs

How to Store Homegrown Herbs, a tray of a variety of dried herbs.

Choosing the Right Time to Harvest

One of the most important aspects of drying and storing your herbs is knowing when to harvest them. Over the years, I’ve learned that timing is everything. If you pick your herbs too early or too late, they might not have the full flavor you’re looking for.

To determine the best time to harvest, pay attention to the growth stage of your herbs. Most herbs are at their peak flavor just before they start to flower. I usually look for signs like buds forming or leaves being fully developed. For example, I harvest my basil plants when they have large, lush leaves but haven’t yet begun to flower. Morning is the best time to pick your herbs, as their essential oils are at their highest concentration. For best results, make sure the morning dew has dried before you start harvesting.

My hand holding dill.

Preparing Herbs for Drying

Once you’ve picked the perfect time to harvest your herbs, it’s time to get them ready for drying. First, I like to give them a thorough cleaning to remove any dirt or debris. I gently wash the herbs under cool running water, being careful not to bruise the leaves. If you have herbs with delicate leaves, like cilantro or parsley, consider using a salad spinner to remove excess moisture gently.

After washing the herbs, I lay them out on clean towels or paper towels to air-dry. It’s essential to remove as much moisture as possible before the actual drying process begins, as excess moisture can lead to mold or mildew growth. I usually let my herbs air-dry for a couple of hours, occasionally patting them dry with a towel to speed up the process.

Once the herbs are dry, it’s time to prepare them for the drying method of your choice. If you’re planning to air-dry or use a dehydrator, I recommend bundling the herbs together by their stems with a rubber band or some twine. Make sure the bundles aren’t too large, as this can slow down the drying process and potentially cause mold growth. If you’re planning to oven-dry your herbs, you can skip the bundling step and simply lay them out on a baking sheet.

A bundle of fresh thyme.

Drying Methods

Over the years, I’ve experimented with several different drying methods for my homegrown herbs, and I’ve found that each method has its own set of pros and cons. Here are the three most common methods I’ve tried, along with some tips on how to make the most of each technique:

Air-drying

This is probably the simplest and most cost-effective method for drying herbs. All you need is a well-ventilated space away from direct sunlight. I usually hang my small bundles upside down in a spare room or closet. Sometimes, I even use a drying rack or clothes hanger for added convenience. The key to successful air drying is maintaining good air circulation, so make sure there’s plenty of space between your herb bundles. Depending on the humidity and temperature in your area, air-drying can take anywhere from one to three weeks.

List of herbs suitable for air drying: Basil, Mint, Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano, Sage, Cilantro/Coriander, Dill

bundles of a variety of fresh herbs.

Oven-drying

If you’re short on time or live in a particularly humid environment, oven drying might be a better option for you. To oven-dry your herbs, preheat your oven to its lowest setting (usually around 150°F or 65°C) and spread the herbs out on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Place the herbs in the oven and leave the door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape. I like to check on my herbs every 30 minutes or so, turning them occasionally to ensure even drying. Oven-drying typically takes between one and four hours, depending on the type of herb and the oven’s temperature. You can also try your hand at drying herbs in your microwave oven.

List of herbs suitable for oven drying: Basil, Mint, Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano, Sage, Cilantro/Coriander, Dill

Rosemary on a cookie sheet.

Using a dehydrator

A food dehydrator is an excellent investment if you plan to dry herbs regularly. Dehydrators have adjustable temperature settings and built-in fans that help speed up the drying process. To use a dehydrator, simply lay your herbs out on the trays provided, making sure they don’t overlap. Set the dehydrator to the recommended temperature for herbs (usually around 95°F or 35°C) and let it run until the herbs are thoroughly dried, which can take anywhere from four to eight hours. Be sure to check on your herbs periodically to ensure they’re not overdrying.

Herbs suitable for using a dehydrator: Basil, Mint, Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano, Sage, Cilantro/Coriander, Dill

Freezing Freshness: The Ice Cube Tray Method

An ingenious and convenient method for preserving the freshness of herbs is by using an ice cube tray. This technique not only prolongs the shelf life of herbs but also provides easy access to their flavors for future use. Here’s how you can use an ice cube tray with water or olive oil:

  1. Prepare the Herbs: Start by washing and thoroughly drying the herbs you wish to preserve. Remove any damaged or wilted leaves, and chop them finely if desired.
  2. Water Method:
    • Place a small amount of chopped herbs into each compartment of the ice cube tray, filling them about halfway.
    • Pour cool water into each compartment, covering the herbs completely. Ensure not to overfill, as the water will expand when frozen.
    • Place the ice cube tray in the freezer and allow the herbs to freeze solid.
  3. Olive Oil Method:
    • Fill each compartment of the ice cube tray halfway with chopped herbs.
    • Pour olive oil over the herbs, ensuring they are fully submerged. Olive oil acts as a preservative and adds flavor to the herbs.
    • Place the ice cube tray in the freezer and allow the herbs to freeze completely.
  4. Remove and Store: Once the herb-filled ice cubes are frozen solid, remove them from the ice cube tray and transfer them to a labeled freezer bag or airtight container for long-term storage. Be sure to label the container with the herb type and date of freezing for easy identification.
  5. Usage: When cooking, simply pop out a herb-filled ice cube from the freezer and add it directly to soups, stews, sauces, or sautés. The herbs will thaw quickly and release their fresh flavors, enhancing the taste of your dishes effortlessly.

Using an ice cube tray with water or olive oil is a great way to preserve herbs, ensuring that you have access to their vibrant flavors throughout the year. Give this simple and effective method a try to extend the life of your herbs and elevate your culinary use!

Herbs suitable for preservation using the ice cube tray method: Basil, Mint, Chives, Rosemary, Thyme, Parsley, Oregano, Sage, Cilantro/Coriander, Dill

rosemary in an ice cube tray with olive oil.

Storing Dried Herbs

Once your herbs are completely dry, it’s time to store them properly to maintain their flavor and freshness. Here’s my tried-and-true process for storing dried herbs:

Proper storage containers

I’ve found that an airtight container like a mason jar is the best option for storing dried herbs. They help keep moisture and air out, which can cause your herbs to lose their flavor and spoil more quickly. You can use small mason jars, spice jars, or repurpose old glass jars you have lying around.

Dried herbs in measuring spoons and in mason jars.

Labeling and organizing

To ensure I always know what’s in each jar, I like to label them with the herb’s name and the date of drying. This helps me keep track of how long the herbs have been stored and when it might be time to replace them. I also find it helpful to organize my herbs by type, such as grouping all my dried leafy herbs together and keeping my dried seed spices separate.

chalk board mason jars with herb labels.

Learn how to make these DIY Chalk board spice jars.

Tips and Tricks

Over the years, I’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that have helped me make the most of my dried herbs. Here are some of my favorites:

Maximizing flavor

To get the best flavor from your dried herbs, crush or grind them just before using them in your recipes. This releases their essential oils and ensures you’re getting the most potent flavor possible. I like to use a mortar and pestle for this, but a small herb grinder or even your fingers will work in a pinch.

Basil in mortar and pestle.

Rehydrating herbs

If you’re using your dried herbs in a dish with a lot of liquid, like a soup or stew, you can rehydrate them by adding them directly to the pot. They’ll absorb the liquid as they cook, releasing their flavors into the dish. For recipes with less liquid, the best way to rehydrate your herbs is by soaking them in a small amount of warm water for a few minutes before adding them to your favorite recipes.

Shelf life

While dried herbs can last a long time when stored properly, they do eventually lose their potency. As a general rule, I try to use up my dried leafy herbs within one year and my dried seed spices within two years. If you notice that your herbs have lost their aroma or don’t impart much flavor to your dishes, it’s probably time to replace them.

Growing for drying

If you’re growing your own herbs specifically for drying, consider choosing varieties that are known for their strong flavors and good drying qualities. Some of my favorite herbs to grow and dry include rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, and basil.

The start of a raised bed with herbs.

Conclusion

Drying and storing your own fresh herbs (or even your store-bought herbs) may seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little practice and patience, it’s an incredibly rewarding process. By following the steps I’ve outlined in this guide, you’ll be able to enjoy the vibrant flavors of your herb garden long after the growing season has ended.

I hope my personal experiences and tips have inspired you to give drying and storing your own herbs a try. There’s truly something special about reaching for a jar of your own dried herbs to elevate your favorite dishes, knowing that you’ve nurtured them from seed to harvest.

Happy herb-drying, and may your homegrown herbs bring even more joy to your cooking adventures!

my signature which is a drawing of me sitting.

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