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4 Benefits of Drying Your Own Herbs
Preserving fresh herbs gives home cooks year-round access to the aromatic plants. Here are a few benefits of drying your own herbs:
- Home-dried herbs are fresher. Dried herbs lose their flavor as they age—so herbs that were dried only a few months ago taste much better than herbs dried two years ago. When you buy dry herbs at the grocery store, they’ve already spent time in processing and transportation, not to mention time sitting on the grocery store shelf and in your pantry. On the flip side, if you dry your own herbs at the end of the growing season, you’ll have fresher dried herbs with the best flavor.
- Home-grown herbs in the off-season. If you’re a seasoned herb gardener, you know that unless you bring your herbs inside for the winter, it can be hard to have home-grown herbs during the off-season. Drying your herbs is a great way to enjoy the fruits of your garden even after your plants have gone dormant.
- You control the pesticides. When you buy any herbs at the store, it’s unclear what kinds of pesticides or chemicals the farmers used. By growing your own herbs for drying, you have complete control over the kinds of pesticides you use (or don’t use).
- Store-bought dry herbs are expensive. The spice aisle can often make a big dent in a grocery budget. While the initial set up of an herb garden can be somewhat costly, growing, using, and drying your own herbs can be more economical in the long run.
How to Air Dry Herbs
Air drying herbs is the easiest and most traditional way to dry your herbs:
- Bunch your herbs. Collect herbs in small bunches and tie the stems together near the tips. You can use anything, like twine or rubber bands. It often helps to use something that can be easily tightened, like a twist-tie, because as the stems dry they will shrink and may become loose.
- Hang the sprigs. After you’ve tied your herbs together, hang them upside down in a warm, dry place. Humidity encourages mold and will prevent your herb bundles from drying quickly.
- Protect your herbs. Like all plants, herbs attract pests. To protect your bundle of herbs, loosely wrap mesh around each bundle. The mesh keeps dust and bugs from contaminating your herbs, as well as to catch any leaves that may fall. Muslin or mesh bags work best—if you don’t have these on hand, a paper bag with a few holes punched in it will also work. Avoid using plastic bags as they can promote mold.
- Wait. Fresh herbs can take anywhere from eight hours to a week to dry fully, depending on your climate and the herbs themselves. You’ll know they’re adequately dry once the leaves crackle when touched.
How to Dry Herbs in the Oven
Oven-drying herbs may sound simple, but it’s actually more challenging than other drying methods. Many ovens don’t go low enough for the optimal herb-drying temperature (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit), and herbs need air circulation in order to dry properly.
- Set the temperature. You’ll need to set the oven to 100 degrees Fahrenheit to dry your herbs. An oven thermometer can help you determine the lowest possible temperature your oven can reach.
- Place the herbs in the oven. Set the herbs on a cheesecloth and place them over the wire rack in the middle fo your oven so that air can circulate underneath the herbs.
- Circulate the air. Herbs need proper air circulation during the drying process to preserve their essential oils. If you have an electric oven, you can keep the door open as the herbs dry to promote good air circulation. It is hazardous to cook with the oven door ajar with a gas oven, so instead, open the door every four to five minutes to help the air circulate.
- Dry for one hour. It will take about an hour to adequately dry your herbs in the oven. If your herbs are taking longer to dry than expected, flip them over to allow for even drying.
How to Dry Herbs in the Microwave
Since herbs don’t have a ton of moisture (compared to fruits or vegetables), they’re a great candidate for drying in the microwave:
- Remove the stems. Stems retain more moisture content than leaves, so they won’t respond as well to microwave drying.
- Place between paper towels. Place your herbs between two paper towels before the microwaving process. The paper towels will allow steam to escape the leaves while helping them heat evenly.
- Microwave your herbs. Program your microwave to heat your herbs on high for one minute, then allow the herbs to rest for 30 seconds. The herbs need to rest in between heating to prevent them from burning.
- Repeat until dry. Continue to heat your herbs for one-minute intervals until the herbs feel dry. This process should take no longer than 10 minutes.
How to Dry Herbs with a Dehydrator
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If you already have a food dehydrator, you can easily use it to dry herbs. Spread the herbs in a single layer on dehydrating trays. Next, set the temperature to 100 degrees. The herbs will take anywhere from one to four hours to dry; feel free to use the timer setting (if your dehydrator has one).
How to Store Dried Herbs
Once your herbs are dry, store them for later use:
- Strip the leaves. Strip the leaves from the stalks. The aromatic essential oils of the herbs are where most of the flavor is located, so it’s unnecessary to preserve the stalks.
- Divide your herbs. While ground-up dried herbs are most convenient in the kitchen, intact herb leaves retain their flavor longer—so if you can, set aside about half of your herb leaves to be stored intact and ground up later. That way, you’ll have fresher-tasting dried herbs for longer.
- Grind the leaves. Using a mortar and pestle or just your hands, grind up or crumble about half your leaves into a coarse powder to use for seasoning.
- Store in airtight containers. Both ground herbs and intact leaves should be stored in airtight containers, like mason jars. Keep the ground and intact herbs in separate jars for easy kitchen use. Keep your dried herbs in a dark place (or at least out of direct sunlight) and away from moisture.
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