Preserving Your Herbal Bounty: Drying Herbs

Trisha Shirey, Director of Flora & Fauna - 18th September 2012

The first cool fronts of fall have finally arrived and have brought welcome rain. As temperatures begin to cool, many of our summer herbs will begin to decline. Drying herbs can allow you to savor the flavor of your garden throughout the year.

Bundles of dried herbs can be a beautiful and fragrant home accent and are always a welcome gift to creative chefs without an herb garden of their own. I like to tie a small bundle of herbs on a package or a gift bag or even around the neck of a bottle of wine. Gifting a cookbook? Tie a bundle of the herbs needed for one of your favorite recipes onto the gift.

I like to hose down the herbs in the garden and let them dry before I start cutting them so they won’t require rinsing. Gather herbs for drying in the morning as the essential oils that give them their flavor will be at its highest level.

Bundle individual herbs together or make bundles from several varieties of herbs. Keep the bundles no more than one inch in diameter since they may mildew in the center of larger bundles. Use rubber bands to tightly gather the stems and then cut all the stem ends to one length. I found that using twist ties or string for the bundles ended in disaster; as the herbs dry they shrink – they fell out of the bundle onto the floor. Rubber bands shrink with the herbs. Use several bands on larger bundles.

If you are giving the dried herbs as a gift you may want to include a label with the name and variety of the herbs. I tie a ribbon around them, first making a hanging loop for the back, then wrapping the ribbon a few times to cover the bands.

Hang the bundles to dry in a spot out of sunlight and with good air flow. I use an over the door hanging rack in my hallway where there are no windows.

You may also strip the leaves from the stems and dry the herbs on trays or window screens. Mint dries very well this way and is nice for teas all year long. Place the herbs in jars and store them out of direct light. Keep the leaves in their whole form and then crush them immediately before using them to release the flavorful oils. You may even want to make your own tea blends with your dried herbs.

If you have a food dryer that also may be used for herb drying. Lay the herb leaves in thin layers on the trays. Most will dry within a few hours and your home will smell amazing. Place the dried herbs in glass containers and store out of direct light to preserve flavor and color. Inspect your dried herbs for any signs of mold and discard them in the compost pile if they appear moldy. Mint, lemon verbena, dill and tarragon maintain excellent flavor and color when dried in a dehydrator.

I have not had great success with oven or microwave drying. The intense heat seems to evaporate the essential oils and the result is dried flavorless herbs. (And we won’t even discuss the fires in the microwave!)

If you don’t have a herb garden of your own, remember that you are always welcome to harvest from our abundant selection of herbs at the spa.

For more information on drying herbs watch this episode of The Central Texas Gardener.