Four Methods for Drying Fresh Herbs

Every supermarket has racks of metal tins and glass jars of dried herbs to spice up home cooking, but their flavor cannot compare to home preserved fresh herbs. Certain herbs, like cilantro, lose their flavor when dried. Freezing these fresh herbs is the best bet for preserving their flavor when they cannot be used fresh. Others, like oregano, tarragon, basil, parsley thyme, marjoram and sage hold up well to dehydrating using any of four methods.

Drying Fresh Herbs: Sun Drying

Sun drying fresh herbs keeps the natural oils in. Pick the herbs and tie the stems together with string or thin twine. Hang upside down outdoors in the sun until the leaves are crumbly and brittle, usually 1 to 5 days, depending on the type of herb and ambient humidity. Clotheslines provide an excellent spot for sun drying fresh herbs, since they are usually set up in a sunny, open location. Sun drying is an excellent method of making herbal smudges, since the bundles are already tied together.

Drying Fresh Herbs: Electric Dehydrating

Electric food dehydrators are perfect for drying fresh herbs in wet or humid climates where the weather might not cooperate with the long, sunny, dry periods necessary for outdoor sun drying. Simply arrange the stems of the fresh herbs on the drying tray and set the dehydrator to low heat, about 115F on units with adjustable thermostats, until the herbs are brittle. As the herbs dry out, they get lighter and the fans in the dehydrators can blow them around, so use caution when opening the dehydrator to check on the herbs. Flavors in a food dehydrator tend to mix, so don’t try drying multiple fresh herbs in the same dehydrator load.

Drying Fresh Herbs: Oven Drying

People without a food dehydrator can still get the advantages of drying fresh herbs by using the oven as a dehydrator. Lay stems of fresh herbs directly on clean oven racks or on wire racks set on cookie sheets and place in the oven with the oven door propped slightly open to let moisture escape. With gas ovens, the pilot light often offers enough heat for dehydrating the delicate herbs. Electric ovens will need to be turned to the “warm” or lowest setting and checked periodically to ensure that the herbs are not scorching.

Drying Fresh Herbs: Microwave Drying

For the impatient, a microwave provides a fast, easy method for drying fresh herbs. Microwave drying destroys many of the aromatic and flavorful oils in the herbs, so it is best used for herbs that are being dried for their aesthetic properties rather than for cooking, teas or medicinal use. Sandwich the herbs between two microwave-safe paper towels and cook on high, checking every 30 seconds for dryness. Some herbs take up to 2 minute to dry.

Whatever method is used, dried herbs store best in a cool, dry, dark, airtight location. Glass jars in a cupboard. With all methods of drying fresh herbs, the flavor remains best when the herbs are left as intact as possible until time to use them. When stripping leaves from stems, try to keep the leaves intact and store in an opaque, airtight container like a glass jar inside a paper bag. Crumble only the amount necessary at the time of use to release the flavorful oils. For the best flavor, use fresh herbs within six months of drying. Drying concentrates the flavor of fresh herbs, so the amount used should be reduced when adding home-dried herbs to recipes calling for fresh.