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Extend the life of fresh mint, basil, thyme, and more from home gardens in the Hudson Valley with these tips for drying herbs.
By Noelle Johnson, Houzz
The simple pleasure of walking out into the garden and clipping a handful of fresh herbs to flavor a favorite dish is one that many home gardeners enjoy. Drying herbs is an excellent method to ensure that the aromatic oil in their leaves can continue to add a savory taste to your food long after your summer garden has been put to bed. The process of drying herbs is quite easy and concentrates the flavor, so they will last a long time on a pantry shelf.
While most herbs are suitable for drying, some are easier to dry than others. Herbs with a low moisture content, such as bay leaves, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, dry very well. Those with thinner, larger leaves, such as basil, parsley, and sage, also take well to drying but need to be dried more quickly to prevent mold from forming on the leaves.
Harvesting and Prepping
1. Harvest herbs before they flower, as they tend to lose some of their flavor and can even be a little bitter once they have flowered.
2. Pick herbs in the morning, which is when the oil content of their leaves is highest and the flavor is at its peak.
3. Wash the leaves if needed to remove dirt or dust, and pick off any discolored foliage. Lightly dry the herbs using a dishcloth or paper towels.
4. Tie herbs into bundles. For herbs with more moisture in the leaves, like basil and parsley, limit the bundles to four to six stems to allow them to dry faster. If you live in a humid climate, make the bundles smaller to promote drying.
Use rubber bands, twine, or twist ties to tie the herbs together at the base of their stems. Make sure the tie is fairly tight, as the stems will shrink as the herbs dry.
Drying the Herbs
Select an indoor location with good air circulation. Avoid any areas where the sun will shine on the herbs, as this can decrease their flavor and bleach the leaves. You have a few drying options once you have harvested and prepped your herbs.
Option 1: Hang the bundles upside down. You can attach them to a coat hanger, a drying rack, or a ladder, or hang them from the ceiling using twine or string.
Option 2: Punch 10 holes in a brown paper lunch bag and place the herb bundles upside down in it — be careful not to overcrowd them. Tie the bag closed and hang it from a support as described in the previous example. This method is useful for more humid regions where herbs may take longer to dry. The bag protects the herbs from dust and will catch any stems that slip out.
Option 3: Place the herbs in a single layer on a screen, in the same location as for the previous options. You can place the screen on a table or up on bricks to better enable airflow, as that will allow the herbs to dry on both sides. Every two days, turn the herbs over to help promote even drying.
Option 4: You can oven-dry them for quick results, but this will result in slightly less flavor than if you allow them to dry naturally. Set the temperature to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and leave the oven door open. Place the herbs on a baking sheet and put into the oven, making sure to still leave the door open. Turn the herbs every 10 minutes until they are they are dry, and remove.
Option 5: If you have a dehydrator, you can easily dry herbs in a relatively short amount of time.
If you’ve decided to dry your herbs naturally, begin checking them after a week. The length of drying time can range from as little as a few days to a month, depending on the humidity and method of drying. Once the leaves are dry and crispy, they are ready.
You can store dried herbs as whole leaves or gently crumble them into small pieces by hand before storing them in airtight containers. Place the containers out of sunlight in a cool, dry space, where peak flavor will last six to 12 months.