While some flavor loss occurs when herbs are dried, your own dried herbs will be fresher and more pungent than any you can buy at the supermarket. Here are the basics:
- Spray herbs with water the day before harvesting so leaves will be clean and have time to dry by the next day. Wait an extra day to harvest if moisture is still visible.
- Cut stems to harvest herbs for drying rather than picking off individual leaves.
- Plan to harvest on a dry, sunny day in spring before flowers appear and when leaves contain the highest concentration of oils. Harvesting may continue until late summer.
- Place stems in water for two hours when harvesting late in the day.
- Harvest seeds after plants flower, mature, and seeds change color from green to brown or gray. Keep an eye on seed heads as they develop so that you harvest before they shatter.
The Drying Process
- Strip damaged lower leaves off stems.
- Use kitchen string or a rubber band to loosely combine stems into small bundles. Do not bunch herbs tightly or mold may occur before they dry.
- Label herbs as you bundle them as many dried leaves look alike.
- Fasten paper bags over bundles to protect herbs when drying in a dusty attic or garage. Bags are also useful to catch any leaves that drop off stems. Dried, sturdy stems can be used as skewers.
- Hang the bunches upside down in a dark, warm, dry place with good air circulation to preserve the essential oils that, in turn, will preserve flavor.
- Examine herbs after 1-2 weeks. When moisture dissipates and leaves are crisp enough to crumble, they are dry enough for storage. Extend drying time as needed.
- Alternatively, dry herbs in the oven by spreading them out on a baking sheet, taking care to avoid crowding. Succulent herbs, such as basil, may do best with this method.
- Set the oven at its lowest temperature possible, 110 degrees or less. Monitor herbs closely with the oven door partly ajar for moisture to escape. They are ready when crisp enough to crumble.
- Follow manufacturer’s directions if you use a dehydrator or solar dryer.
- Remove dried leaves from stems, crush them, place loosely in airtight glass jars (preferably tinted), and store in a cool, dry cupboard out of the light.
- Inspect jarred herbs after several days and again after one week. If there is condensation in the jar, remove the leaves for further drying. Under optimum conditions, shelf life is one year.
- Use the hanging method for drying seeds from flower heads (e.g., coriander seeds from the flower head of Coriandrum sativum). Secure a paper bag around the flower heads before hanging or place a clean cloth under the hanging bunches to catch seeds as stems dry and flower heads release them.
- Store seeds separately in airtight glass jars. Keep in a cool, dry, darkened cupboard.