How to Dry Herbs

If you grow and dry your own herbs, you will always have a fresh, inexpensive supply close at hand for making delicious foods. For people on salt-free diets, herbs enhance the flavor of otherwise bland foods and do not add calories to foods. If you want to cut down on salt or calories, you can use herbs and spices to give zest to familiar, low-calorie or low-salt foods. For example, a pinch of rosemary dropped into the water that potatoes or rice are boiled in will give a delightful taste to these vegetables. 

You can grow in your garden or in the pot a wide variety of herbs. If you plant your herb garden near the kitchen, you can enjoy the plants and harvest the leaves easily as they reach the peak of quality. Some that are especially popular are basil, bay leaf, parsley, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, mint, sage, sweet marjoram, savory, oregano, chervil, chives, and dill. 

The best time to harvest herbs is mid-morning on a dry, sunny day after the dew has dried, preferably on the same day you want to use them. It is good to harvest young tender leaves, because they are more flavorful and aromatic than older leaves. Remove any dead or discolored leaves, rinse with cold water to wash off dust and dirt and drain well on paper towels. For optimum flavor, pick before flower buds form. Handle gently to prevent bruising.

For herbs with long stems the best method is to cut the stalks, tie them together in small bunches and hang upside down in a warm, dry, airy place, but not in the sun. Allow 5 to 10 days to dry. 

It is good idea to tie a large brown paper bag around the bunch to protect the herbs from the light. Be sure the leaves do not touch the sides o the bag, otherwise, they may stick to the bag and not dry properly. Make several holes in the bag for ventilation. Hang it in a warm, dry, airy room or attic. Herbs will dry in about 1 to 2 weeks.

Herbs with short stems and seeds could be dry on trays or cookie sheets. Spread seeds or leaves in a single layer on a tray or cookie sheet. Dry in a warm, airy place 4 to 6 days or dry in your oven on temperature of 140° F for about 1 to 4 hours. Turn or stir the leaves occasionally to assure even drying. 

Using Herbs

To release the full flavor from the dried herbs crush the lives into fine bits before adding to food. You can crush the leaves by rubbing them between your palms or by grinding them with a mortar and pestle. Use 1/4 as much dried herbs as you would fresh. Never use old herbs. If you aren't sure an herb is fresh, rub a bit of it between your palms and breathe in the aroma. If there is little or no aroma, replace the herb with a fresh supply.

Real Cooking

Did You Know?
Herbs can also be dried in a microwave because the leaves contain little moisture and dry rapidly. Place a single layer of herb leaves between double thicknesses of paper towels. Dry them for 1 to 2 minutes on a medium to high setting in the microwave, depending on the thickness of the leaves. Flip over and repeat for 1 more minute. Cool and test for brittleness. When the herb leaves crumble in your hands, they are done. If leaves are not dry, microwave them for 30 seconds to 1 minute longer.

You should store dry herbs in small air tight containers away from the light.

If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, whole dried herbs retain their flavor and aroma up to one year.

Never sun dry herbs because sunlight destroys their natural aroma. It is important to know that whole herbs keep their flavor longer than crushed or ground herbs.

Herbs that retain their flavor when dried include dill, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, taragon, thyme.