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What to do when your garden is overflowing with fresh herbs? Dry some. Freeze some. Start your personal "stash" of homegrown herbal tea!
My first foray into the wonderful world of at-home herb drying was a real eye-opener!
After much trial and error (more error than I care to admit!), I learned that some drying methods preserve an herb's true flavor better than others. There's no such thing as "one size fits all" when you're preserving fresh herbs.
So ... without further ado:
Note: I've marked the best preserving methods for each herb with an "X". An asterisk (*) means the method will work, but your results might be less than spectacular.
[Click any link in the chart for details about drying, freezing and storing that herb.]
Before we get to the "how to's", here are some things to keep in mind, no matter which preserving method you're using ...
Are you a patient soul? This is an easy way to dry lots of herbs at one time. But it's definitely not the quickest:
Hint: I slip a sprung-open paper clip into the bundle to use as a hanging device ...
Yep, my herbs are hanging from an over-the-door clothes hook. I was running out of space on the drying lines I had strung across the room, so I was forced to get creative with places to hang more bunches.
Are you short on hanging space? Lay your herbs on a flat surface to dry.
If your leaves or flowers are small, they might fall through the holes on a baking rack. If that happens, spread them out on a clean cloth or paper. They'll dry just fine.
The secret to success with this method is having an oven that consistently holds a super-low (90°F /32°C or lower) temperature setting. If your oven temperature spikes and drops, you might want to try a different drying method.
Remember, our herbs are precious! We want to dry 'em - not fry 'em!!
TIP: Check the temperature inside the oven before you turn it on. You might be surprised how warm it is in there - maybe warm enough to dry your herbs without cranking up the heat!
Frankly, I was pretty skeptical about microwave drying herbs. Until I tried it myself ... and discovered that some tea herbs hold their true color and flavor really well when they're dried in the microwave.
The scientific explanation involves the difference in evaporation rates of a plant's water content and its volatile oils (the good stuff!). Borrrrrrrring, I know. So I'll spare you the science mumbo jumbo. ;-)
Let's move right on to the "how to" ...
TIP: Open the oven door and allow your herbs to "rest" for a minute or two between zappings. That accomplishes two things: (1) it allows you time to test for done-ness; and (2) any humidity that's built up in the oven will be released, leaving less moisture to re-invade your herbs.
I load 4 or 5 trays with freshly harvested "tea", turn the trusty machine on to the lowest temperature setting, and walk away.
The drying temperature stays steady, no heat fluctuations to screw up the process ... and in a matter of hours, my herbs are nice and crispy dry.
Note: Each brand of dehydrator operates a little differently. So be sure to follow your manufacturer's instructions for best results!
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