have an herb garden, you'll find that home-dried herbs can be just as tasty as
those bought at the store. However, proper handling is as important to the
success of your herb harvest as good cultural practices.
Herbs acquire their fragrance and flavor from oils that evaporate into the
air when the leaves are crushed. Ideally, you should use fresh herbs for
cooking, but it is possible to retain some quality for later use. There are
several methods to preserve herbs.
Drying is the traditional method of herb preservation. If the herbs
are clean, do not wet them. Otherwise, rinse dust and dirt from the foliage,
shake off the excess water, and spread the herbs out to dry on paper towels or
dishcloths until all surface moisture has evaporated. Remove any dead or damaged
foliage. Then, tie the stems into small bundles with twine or string and hang
them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of the sun. Be sure to make
small, loose bundles and allow for good air circulation around each bunch.
UV rays from the sun and moisture from dew and frost can discolor and
severely reduce the quality of many herbs. Thus, it is best to dry herbs indoors
in a large empty closet, attic, or unused corner of a room. Drying herbs look
quite attractive drying in a kitchen or pantry. If none of these places are
practical, herbs can be dried in a barn, shed, or (least desirable) under the
cover of a porch. Sage, thyme, summer savory, dill, and parsley are easy to dry.
Basil, tarragon, and mints may mold and discolor if not dried quickly.
herbs are at their peak flavor just before flowering, so this is
a good time to collect them for drying and storage. To be
certain, check drying directions on specific herbs in a reliable
reference book. Cut off the herbs early in the morning just
after the dew has dried. Cut annuals off at ground level, and
perennials about one-third down the main stem, including the
herbs, with the leaves on the stems, lightly in cold
running water to remove any soil, dust, bugs, or other foreign
material. Drain thoroughly on absorbent towels or hang plants
upside down in the sun until the water evaporates.
leaves off the stalks once plants have drained and dried,
leaving only the top 6 inches. Remove all blossoms.
Natural or Air Drying
An alternative to hanging herbs to dry in bunches is to spread the herbs out
on window screens. Suspend the screens over sawhorses or the backs of chairs.
Turn the leaves often to ensure even drying. Suspend the bag in a dark
area with good air circulation. Collect the seeds when they are dry, and store
in rigid light-proof containers.
must be dried thoroughly before storing. Herbs with high
moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or
they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the
dark by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.
Hanging leaves down allows essential oils to flow from stems to
leaves. Tie whole stems very tightly in small bunches.
Individual stems will shrink and fall. Hang in a dark, warm (70o-80oF
dust-free area. Leaves are ready when they feel dry and crumbly
in about 1 to 2 weeks.
Microwave drying is a quick and easy method to dry small amounts of herbs.
Lay a single layer of clean, dry leaves between dry paper towels and place them
in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Drying will vary with the
moisture content of the herb and the wattage of the microwave oven. Let the
leaves cool. If they are not brittle, reheat for 30 seconds and retest. Repeat
as needed. Thick leaved herbs may need to be air dried for several days before
Conventional ovens can also be used to dry herbs. For
quick oven drying, take care to prevent loss of flavor, oils,
and color. Place leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet or shallow
pan not more than 1 inch deep in an open oven at low heat less
than 180oF (82.2oC) for about 2 to 4
hours. Home food dehydrators
also do an excellent job of drying herbs. Follow the directions provided with
Silica Gel or Salt Drying
Silica gel or non-iodized table salt can be used to dry or
"cure" non-hairy leaves. Clean and blot dry leaves before
placing them in a tray or shallow pan of the silica gel or salt.
After the leaves have dried, approximately 2 to 4 weeks, remove
the leaves from the drying material, shake off the excess
material, and store them in glass containers. Before using,
rinse leaves thoroughly in clear, cold water.
Another method of drying herbs is to remove the leaves from the
plants, wash them, and spread them thinly on screens to dry,
avoiding exposure to bright light. Cheesecloth makes a good
screen material and stretches well.
Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the
leaves are dry, separate them from their stems and package the leaves in rigid
containers with tight fitting lids. Glass or hard plastic are best, although
heavy-duty zip-lock plastic bags can be used. To preserve full flavor, avoid
crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them. Store dried herbs in a
cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep
for a year if stored properly.
also can be frozen. Harvest herbs according to recommendations.
Wash them thoroughly and blanch them in boiling, unsalted water
for 50 seconds Cool them quickly in ice water and then package
and freeze them. Washed fresh dill, chives, and basil can be
frozen without blanching.
Another freezing method. Rinse the
herbs quickly in cold water, shake off the excess, then chop coarsely. Place
generous pinches of herbs in water-filled ice cube trays and freeze. Transfer
herb-cubes to plastic bags or air tight plastic containers. Another method for
freezing is to spread the herbs loosely onto a cookie sheet to freeze, then
transfer the herbs into a large plastic bag and seal. When they thaw, herbs will
not be suitable for garnish, but can be used in cooking. Do not re-freeze herbs
completely dry, the leaves may be screened to a powder or stored
whole in airtight containers, such as canning jars with tightly
should be stored whole and ground as needed. Leaves retain their
oil and flavor if stored whole and crushed just before use.
few days, it is very important to examine daily the jars in
which you have stored dried herbs. If you see any moisture in
the jars, remove the herbs and repeat the drying process. Herbs
will mold quickly in closed jars if not completely dry.
you are sure the herbs are completely dry, place them in the
airtight containers, and store them in a cool, dry place away
from light. Never use paper or cardboard containers for storage
as they will absorb the herbs' aromatic oils.