Herbs are one of the easiest ways to introduce yourself to the world of drying or dehydrating. You don't have to have a big budget dehydrator to dry herbs, you can just use something you probably already have at home.
Do you plant an herb garden every year, only to be overwhelmed by the abundance of herbs that grow throughout the gardening season?
Or perhaps you've purchased loads of fresh herbs from the farmer's market or grocery store for recipes you plan on making, and are now left with extra that you know will just rot in the fridge, but you have no plans on cooking the rest of the week.
Instead of ending up with soggy green bags of slimy plant material in your fridge, use the excess to dry and stock your pantry herb selection with freshly dried herbs. They taste so much better than the dried herbs in the grocery store that may have been there for months before you ever purchase them.
How to Dry Herbs
Prepare Your Herbs
- Pick through your herbs and remove any damaged leaves, stems or debris that you don't want to dehydrate.
- Wash your herbs under cool water. If I've grown my own, I simply rinse to remove dust and any odd debris. If I've purchased from the grocery store, I might choose to wash in equal parts of water to vinegar. Or you can purchase a pre-made version (like this one from Amazon). Simply spray leaves and allow to soak for a few minutes, then rinse as per directions.
- Lay your herbs out on a lint-free, absorbent cloth (I love tea towels for this reason), and allow to air dry. Or you can pat dry with a second cloth. Another alternative is to use a salad spinner to quickly remove the bulk of the moisture from the leaves. I find the salad spinner the quickest way to do this if I have a large quantity of herbs to do.
7 Ways to Dry Herbs
1. Hang Herbs to Dry
This method is great for those long-stemmed herbs such as rosemary, sage, parsley, thyme, mint, basil, dill, and marjoram. This is even a favorite way to preserve herbs because it keeps their flavor and colors the brightest.
You'll want to gather up your herb stems into small packets of no more than three or four stems.
Tie the bundles together using twine, string, ribbon, rubber bands, or anything you have handy.
Hang in a well-ventilated, dust-free area.
TIP: You can put paper bags over your bundles if you worry about the dust. Just punch a few holes in all sides of the paper bag to facilitate airflow.
2. DRY HERBS ON A DRYING RACK
You can use old window screens, or you can build a simple drying rack from 1×1’s and windows screen material stapled to it. Then lay out your herbs in single layers. You can put a block between screen squares and stack them. This works similarly to hanging them, but can work outside in a protected area.
Alternatively, you can use a hanging mesh rack like this one I recently purchased. This allows me to hang indoors or out - and not worry about those pesky insects trying to nest in my food!
3. DRY HERBS WITH A FOOD DEHYDRATOR
By far my favorite way to dry herbs is using a dehydrator. You can set the temperature to be perfect for drying herbs, which is approximately 95-100F. This way, you aren't cooking out more nutrients than necessary.
Simply prepare your herbs, place on the trays provided, turn on your machine, and between 4-12+ hours (depending on the herb you're drying, the size of the leaf, your home's humidity, etc.).
4. DRY HERBS IN AN OVEN
- Set your oven on the lowest temperature setting.
- Place your herbs on a grill or tray then place in your oven.
- Close the door, but put a metal spatula or oven mitt or something in the door so it stays open.
Safety Tip: Do not walk away from the oven. It's a safety hazard and you want to make sure no one gets burned or the mitt catches fire.
You want to allow the heat to escape so as not to cook the herbs – just dry them. You’ll have to check often to see if they are dry enough as all herbs take different amounts of time depending on what they are. It may take 3-4 hours, but check often.
Alternatively, you can just use the pilot light (or your oven light) and place your herbs to dry without the additional heat.
5. MICROWAVE VERSION
You can layer herbs in paper towels inside the microwave and process for 1-3 minutes, in 30-second increments. Be sure your herbs are completely dry before placing in the microwave.
I do not recommend this way because this is still cooking the way it would do food, instead of just removing the moisture. You have to be extremely careful not to burn the herbs, especially those with more delicate leaves and stems.
6. DRY HERBS ON A CAR DASHBOARD
Believe it or not, laying your herbs out on a car dashboard on a sunny day will dehydrate them about as quickly as leaving in the oven. You'll need to make sure that you crack the windows to allow moisture and heat to escape the car, just like with an oven. You don't want to cook the herbs, you want to dry them out. Cooking them removes more of the nutrients.
7. Use a Freeze Dryer
Freeze dryers are quite the commitment. They aren't for those of faint hearts, either.
But freeze dryers work in ways that are different than a dehydrator and allow you to make a variety of items, including meats and dairy, shelf-stable the way that you can't do with a dehydrator.
Surprisingly - herbs are also better preserved with a freeze dryer. They keep their color and shape better. They take anywhere from ¼ to ½ as long to dry, and cost about the same per use to dry as a conventional dehydrator (you just have to factor in that initial cost and maintenance of the machine).
AFTERCARE OF DRIED HERBS
- Allow your dried herbs to come to room temperature.
- Strip stems of leaves.
- Lightly crush the leaves in your hands onto a flexible mat.
- Store in clean, airtight containers that don't allow light (for best shelf life) or any of these awesome tips for storing dried herbs.
- Label containers - don't forget this part. Really. You think you'll remember...but you won't. Then you'll end up with all these little bottles of herbs that look vaguely alike, your sense of smell will be quickly confused. In most cases, mixing up herbs might not really matter...but I don't think you want dried lavender in your stew -- or maybe you do!
What to do with the stems?
I toss my stems into the compost pile or add them to a baggie for flavoring broth later. What do you do with the stems?
How To Dry Herbs Master List
- Bay Leaves
- Greens (while not herbs, I treat them as herbs to keep as much of the nutrients and flavors as possible)
No matter which version you choose, drying herbs is easy with any of these 6 ways to dry herbs. Pick one and get started today!