Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz
As a gardener, backwoods herbalist, and foodie, I absolutely love my home-grown herbs. They are so easy to care for and even easier to put away for the long run. I freeze a few herbs like cilantro and basil pesto, but honestly, drying is the very best way to preserve the flavor and medicinal qualities of culinary herbs. Plus, if the electricity goes out – or you need to bug out – dried herbs are the best. And drying homegrown herbs isn’t hard or time consuming, either. And you don’t need to buy or build a fancy or expensive dehydrator to get the job done. In fact, when you dry herbs my way, it’s fast, easy, and free.
Part of this article came from by book, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, which is a great resource for anyone interested in the cultivation and use of culinary herbs for food and medicine. In it, I talk all about herbs; how to propagate, grow, harvest, and use them for food, medicine, and a whole host of things you never thought you could do with common kitchen herbs. But when it comes to seasoning food and making herbal remedies, there is absolutely nothing better, or less expensive, than growing and drying your own. And despite all the advice you’ve probably read, you can’t really mess this up – even if you try.
There are only a few things you need to focus on when drying herbs: time, temperature, and light. Basically, you want to dry herbs fairly quickly under the lowest temperature possible in order to preserve their essential oils, which directly affects the intensity of the flavor and medicinal properties. If you take too long to get the herbs completely dry, they’ve already lost a huge chunk of those properties. Ditto, if you dry them at too high a temperature. Herbs that have been dried well are very fragrant, retain their color and are brittle when crushed. With that in mind, let me show you how I dry herbs at home.
When I lived in the Rockies, drying bundles of herbs by hanging them was a snap. But here in the southern Midwest, summers are extremely humid and drying herbs in bundles results in a poor quality product. So, after many unsuccessful herb-drying attempts, my husband and I stumbled upon a very effective, but unconventional, drying method.
After several disappointing attempts at drying basil and sage – two of the hardest herbs to dry well – my husband suggested we try a different approach. He had noticed a few basil leaves that had been left on the sidewalk. When he went to clean them up, he noticed they were crisply dry, green and upon further examination, smelled and tasted great. I agreed and we came up with this method, which we use to this day.
We start by picking the leaves from the stems. You don’t have to, but it does speed up the process (which is what you want for quality flavor) and eliminates stems from the finished product.
Then, the leaves are spread out on shiny stainless steel baking pans. When we began using this method, we set the pans out on the concrete sidewalk walk in the sun. Most often the herbs dried in one day and in some cases within hours, and were vibrantly green and fragrant every single time. We no longer put the pans on the sidewalk, but the dashboard of our car, instead! I’ll tell you why in a moment…
Let be known that I fully understand that the standard rule for drying herbs is to never, ever dry them in the sun, because prolonged exposure to light and high heat can evaporate the delicate volatile oils that make herbs flavorful and medicinal. So it was that the first time we tried this method a little voice in my head kept saying, “You know this is wrong, don’t you?” Yes, that’s what I had read so many times. And I hated to ignore that voice of authority, but I did. And it worked beautifully.
In order to clear my conscience in that early experiment on the sidewalk, I placed two different thermometers in the pan to see how hot the herbs, and the pan, actually got. The pans were placed in full sun on a 92° F (33° C) day. The pan only reached 130° F (54° C), which is absolutely acceptable for drying herbs. For medicinal value, the temperature could be a bit lower, but that was easily achieved by choosing a cooler day or by placing the pan in dappled shade.
It didn’t take long before we moved the herb drying from the curb to the dashboard of our car. Drying them on pans on the dash resulted in herbs that dried faster and better, retained more flavor, protected them from sudden wind and rain, kept curious critters and insects away, and gave us the option of rolling up or down the windows to control the temperature.
Using this method, our destemmed herb leaves are dried to perfection within one to two hours for almost all types of herbs. Of course, should you use this method, you absolutely must remember to monitor the drying herbs just as you would if you had a cake in the oven. Use a meat thermometer to gauge the temperature in the pan (not just inside the car), stir or mix the herbs regularly for even drying, and move the herbs into the shade if the temperatures get too high and always allow the herbs to cool completely before storing in glass jars with tight-fitting lids.
That’s it. The fast, easy and free way to dry herbs perfectly every single time. Let me know how it works for you!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide! From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.