Safely Drying Herbs for Storing
Drying and storing your herbs . What you do with the herbs you have collected is just as important as the harvest itself. When the herbs have been gathered, inspect them to ensure that there are no insects or debris.
If the herbs are clean, do not wet them. If they are dirty, gently rinse the herbs, shake off the excess water and lay them on a paper towel to dry.
Also remove dead or damaged foliage. When the herbs have dried, you may proceed with the complete drying process. There are a variety of methods for drying herbs, yet most gardeners prefer natural air drying because of its simplicity and efficacy.
Method #1: Natural Air Drying
When drying herbs naturally, you will need an ideal location to do so. The best place to dry herbs is in a large, empty room, such as a closet, attic or pantry. In fact, many people like to hang herbs in a pantry or kitchen for added flair.
Herbs should be kept away from direct sunlight, moisture and frost, as these conditions can severely compromise the quality and integrity of the herbs.
Make sure you select a spot that has plenty of airflow so that the air circulates around the herbs and helps them to dry faster.
The simplest way to air dry herbs is to tie the herbs into small bunches with string or twine and hang them upside down.
Small, loose bundles are ideal since they allow the air to circulate the best. This method is also nice if you plan on using the herbs for decorative purposes.
Gardeners sometimes worry that the herbs will collect dust by hanging out in the open, so if this is a concern, you may loosely tie a brown paper bag around the bundles.
The herbs should be checked every day or two, and you should notice that the leaves and stems dry out a little more each time.
If you are using brown paper bags and notice that the herbs are not drying out fast enough, poke holes in the bag or trim them down further so that the herbs receive improved air circulation.
The herbs are ready to be stored when they are dry, brittle and break into pieces.
Another natural air drying method is to set the herbs on a drying screen. Choose the same type of dark, empty room with good airflow and no direct sunlight. Position the drying screens in the room and lay the herbs on the screens.
Turn them over as needed to ensure thorough drying. This is a simple way to dry out your herbs and about as low-tech as you can get.
On average, it takes about one week for herbs to dry, and you’ll notice that they become brittle and crispy. The length of time depends on the airflow and temperature of the room, so it could take a little bit more time.
The bundles should be taken down immediately when they are dry, otherwise they will start to collect dust and may even mold.
Collecting the dried herbs is easy; simply roll the bundles through your hands and let the dried leaves collect in a bowl. Or, cover a work area with newspaper and remove the leaves by running your hand down the stem.
The dried leaves may then be stored in labeled jars in a cupboard, away from light. Most herbs can be stored for a year or more.
Method #2: Oven Drying
Air drying is the best way to dry herbs, but it also takes time. If you don’t have weeks to wait and you want to dry out the leaves as quickly as possible, then you can enlist the oven for some help. You may also have no choice but to use the oven if there is a lot of humidity in the air that is interfering with the herbs’ natural ability to dry out on their own.
The good news is that you can finish drying the herbs using the oven, giving you the opportunity to dry them naturally for much of the duration.
To use the oven method, place the herbs on a cookie sheet and remove some of the stems so they are not as bulky. Don’t overcrowd them either.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven on the lowest setting possible, which should be no more than 180 degrees. There is a balance here, as you shouldn’t smell the herbs cooking. This means that the temperature is too high.
If you’re drying out leaves that have been freshly harvested, cooking them for about 2 to 4 hours on a setting of 180 degrees or less. If you’re completing the drying process, aim for a temperature of 150 degrees.
The herbs are dried when the leaves are crispy and the stems feel brittle. You may proceed in the same way to collect the leaves by running the stems through your fingers and gathering the dried leaves over a bowl.
Method #3: Microwave Drying
Microwave drying is a fast and easy method, especially if you’re only looking to dry a small amount of herbs. Take the clean herbs and lay them on a paper towel, then place them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. Even though microwaving herbs is quick and simple, it’s very easy to overheat the herbs. Drying times vary based on the type of herb, the moisture content and the wattage on the microwave.
Check the herbs and heat them in 30 second intervals if they haven’t been fully dried within 1 to 2 minutes. If you smell the herbs burning at any point, remove them from the microwave immediately. Like oven drying, you may have no choice but to use the microwave to finish the drying process if the weather conditions are humid.
Also keep in mind that some herbs are thick and will need to be dried out naturally before being placed in the microwave. Thankfully, because herbs have such low moisture content, they can be successfully dried in a microwave or oven.
Fresh vs. Dried Herbs: Is There a Better Pick?
When you have an herb garden, you’ll find that there are many ways to use the herbs. For instance, you can harvest the seeds, the roots, the flowers, the leaves and the stems. You can also clip fresh leaves to use in dishes like pastas, soups and sauces. We’ve often been taught that fresh is best, so many gardeners are left wondering what the difference between fresh and dried herbs is and if there is a better pick.
When it comes to herbs, the fresh vs. dried debate depends on the type of herb that you are using. Herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill and basil are often best in their fresh form.
You can clip a few of the leaves off of the herb plant and add them to your favorite dishes for flavor and aroma. Herbs such as sage, lavender and oregano are best in their dried form.
However, many herbs can be used in both their fresh and dried form, so really, it’s a matter of preference.
Although fresh herbs are ideal in many cases, when they are dried, the drying process creates a different flavor in the herb. Fresh and dried herbs taste very different from each other, so your dish may taste better with one over the other.
You’ll also find that ethnic dishes have their own preferences, as Middle Eastern cooking prefers fresh herbs like ginger and mint while Indian cooking prefers dried herbs that are mixed together.
Dried herbs have a stronger flavor, and they can be added to raw meats or partially cooked foods to bring out extra taste and aroma.
Dried herbs are also easier to work with since you can add them at any point in the meal and they don’t go bad nearly as quick. Most people store them for a year or more and use them as needed.
Fresh herbs have more limitations. They cannot be cooked on high heats for long periods of times, so it’s recommended that they are finely chopped and added at the end of the meal.
Also, fresh herbs have a shorter shelf life, so they need to be used much faster. Fresh herbs can be hard to find at grocery stores, so most home chefs prefer dried herbs instead. However, if you have your own herb garden, you can enjoy fresh at your convenience.
How to Freeze Herbs
If you want the benefits of fresh herbs but want to give them a longer lifespan, you can opt for freezing the herbs. You will start in the same way as if you were going to dry them out, by rinsing the herbs if they are dirty and setting them out to dry.
There are a variety of methods to freeze the leaves, so it’s about finding what works for you.
The first and simplest method is to simply lay the herbs on a small tray or cookie sheet and place them in the freezer until frozen. When the leaves are frozen solid, place them in an airtight container and stick them back in the freezer. When you freeze the herbs individually, they will not stick together.
You can use the herbs as needed and toss them directly into stews, pasta sauces and casserole dishes.
Another convenient method is to freeze the herbs in ice cube trays. Wash and dry the herbs as usual, and then chop them up into small pieces, even the stems are okay. Stuff the herbs into the ice cube sections and fill each one halfway with water.
You’ll notice that the herbs will float a bit, and this is okay. Stick the ice cube tray in the freezer and when the ice has formed, you may fill up the tray with the rest of the water. When the ice cubes are frozen solid, remove each cube from the tray and place them in Ziploc bags.
Store them in the freezer and drop them into your favorite dishes as needed.
As you can see, drying herbs is a wonderful way to preserve your favorite plants and have an entire herb garden to choose from when cooking your favorite meals. Since some types of herbs taste better fresh, you may also freeze some herbs to expand your cooking palette.
One thing is for certain: whether fresh or frozen, herbs are a healthy, no-calorie way to add flavor, aroma and zest to your dishes while reaping dozens of heart-healthy benefits!Share with friends!