Growing your own garden of herbs or wildcrafting (harvesting herbs from the wild) can be a wonderfully satisfying activity. Not only this but using herbs you have grown or gathered yourself to create medicines and treatments for your family gives a sense of empowerment and achievement.
Learn to dry your own fresh herbs to have on hand for cooking or for use in healing during the winter season when fresh herbs are less readily available.
With education and herbal knowledge, you can empower yourself to take your health and healing into your own hands!
Did you know the majority of modern medicines are made from the extracts and derivatives of plants? The benefit in knowing you can be self-sufficient and be confident the medicines you provide to your family are completely organic with no added chemicals, preservatives, or toxins can greatly put the mind at ease.
Having commonly used dried herbs and medicines prepared ahead of time means more peace of mind. No more running out in the middle of the night for medicine for a sick child!
With a little planning and preparation, you can have aides for the common cold or the flu prepared and ready for use when your family needs them. The possibilities are virtually endless!
For those harvesting herbs for the first time, I would suggest harvesting just one plant type at a time until you are more familiar with identification.
Plants with larger leaves such as plantain or raspberry, the leaves can be stripped from the stem. Smaller more wispy plants such as dill or fennel can be left on the stalk until drying is completed.
Once you have harvested the herbs you intend to dry and preserve, the first thing you will want to do is to separate the various herbs and gently clean them. I suggest a mild biodegradable soap. Discard any damaged or discolored leaves.
After rinsing off my herbs, I will lay them out on a counter lined with paper towels and use another layer to dab dry them as best I can. The object is to dry any visible water off the plants before moving on.
There are a few different methods that can be used to dry herbs. This can depend on the oil content of a particular plant or various parts of a plant may be dried differently. For example, thicker more woody plants and materials such as barks you may choose to dry via oven or dehydrator where mint or yarrow leaves and flowers can be easily air dried.
Natural Air Drying
Air drying can be done either by hanging the herbs to dry or by gently laying them on a rack to dry.
To hang dry herbs, gather them into bunches of 4 or 5 and tie the stems together at one end and hang them upside down with the leaves downward, leaving a few inches between bunches.
Small leaves or more delicate plants and flowers can be loosely wrapped into a muslin cloth made into a pouch and hung the same way.
I have also used small paper lunch bags for hang drying plants inside and it works well. I do not suggest using plastic as mold can develop before the drying process is complete and plastic does not allow for natural air flow.
If you prefer to rack dry your herbs, gently separate leaves and stems in a single layer on a drying rack and either set the racks into a cabinet or drawer or another area where they will be undisturbed to dry. I will sometimes use the warming drawer to the oven to set racks in to dry.
Whether hang drying or rack drying, choose a cool dry area where the herbs will be kept out of direct sunlight at all times. Drying time is typically about 10 days, give or take a couple days, depending on the particular herb and the climate they are dried in. In more humid climates, drying time may be on the longer end.
Below is a great short video you may find helpful. It will show you how easy it is to hang herbs to dry.
If you are in a hurry or for herbs with a high oil or water content, you may choose to use an oven to dry the herbs.
For this method you will want to arrange the herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet or something similar and place them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature setting. To ensure uniform drying, turn the herbs over from time to time.
The total drying time will vary depending on the herb but a few hours is typical.
Using a dehydrator is also a viable way to dry your herbs. Just like using the rack to air dry, you will want to arrange your herbs on the dehydrator rack in a single layer.
Any brand dehydrator will do, but you will want to have one with adjustable temperature settings and if possible the option to change the spacing between the trays.
The dehydrator should be set to a low temperature, ideally between about 95F and 125F. Drying time can vary greatly from 6 hours up to 18 hours, depending on the type of herb and humidity levels.
Your Finished Product
No matter which method you choose to dry your herbs, when the leaves are crispy and brittle and will crack and crumble into pieces and powder, the drying has completed.
Now it is time to crush up the herbs with either your hands or a mortar and pestle.
Removing leaves from the stems is super easy when the herbs have been dried. While holding over a bowl, simply hold the stem at one end and run your fingers down the stem detaching all the leaves as you work your way down.
Remove any extra stems and store the dried herb in an air tight container. Keeping herbs in a darkened or amber glass jar will help preserve them for longer. Always keep them out of direct sunlight. This will also ensure a longer shelf life.
Enjoy the Benefit of Fresh Herbs All Year!
Drying your own herbs is an excellent way to preserve herbs for future use. It is one way to have herbs on hand for cooking or medicinal use during the winter months when we do not have the ability to pick fresh herbs.
As long as your herbs are kept in an air tight container out of direct sunlight, herbs will have a shelf life of at least a good 6 months. When the herbs begin to lose their strong scent and taste, you will know it is time to discard them.
Always remember that dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs. When using them for cooking, a recipe that calls for 1 tablespoon of fresh herb will be the equivalent of 1 teaspoon dried herb.
Have fun with it and experiment with creating your own dried herb combinations. Make your own Italian spice rub by mixing oregano, thyme, and parsley for example.
Please share your experiences with drying your own herbs with me! I always love to hear of new herbal blends too. As always, if you have any questions or issues when drying your own herbs feel free to drop them in the comment section below or send me a private email at firstname.lastname@example.org.