I live in the high desert of California. Everything dries out here–very quickly–even if you don’t want it to. Food, skin, grass and plants, you name it. So I admit that for me, drying herbs is usually not too complicated.
But besides just drying, there are plenty of different ways to save your fresh herbs. At least some of these tips should work well for you no matter where you live or what kind of herbs you have!
Before we begin, some important tips for drying herbs:
First, make sure your herbs are completely dry before sealing them up in a storage container, and even then it may be wise to put a bit of rice or a food-safe moisture-absorbing packet in with them to help them last longer.
When drying, make sure your fresh herbs are spread out well–if they are touching or too close together, moisture and mold may form due to lack of air flow.
Different herbs are different. Of course. But what I mean is, they are different types of plants that grow differently and will react differently to different preserving methods. Basil, for instance, will often turn brown if you try to dry it. Rosemary, on the other hand, since it’s an evergreen, will keep just fine.
It’s important to notice that some herbs, like dill, cilantro, basil, etc are fairly short-lived “annuals,” or plants that survive only one year or season. Other herbs (thyme, rosemary) are perennials and come back year after year. For perennial herbs, all you have to do is trim them down a bit if they get too big or ugly and let them re-grow.
This post contains affiliate links.
In the Oven
Set your oven temperature to the lowest it will go (hopefully 200 or lower) and lay out the herbs on a cookie sheet. Even better, you can use an “air bake” type pan or rack with holes in it for better air circulation. Check on them frequently and take them out once they are dry. Let them cool, then crush them and put them in your container of choice. Remove stems and sticks as needed (a colander can help).
On the dashboard of your car
This trick works well in the summer time if you don’t want to heat up the house with the oven. As pet owners and those with young children should know, your car can become like an oven pretty quickly. Even on a cooler day, the sun heats it up pretty well in there.
Just like the oven method, lay out the herbs on a platter or mesh rack (on top of a platter or cookie sheet so you don’t lose the tiny pieces). Make sure there is enough space between them, and let them sit in the sun until dry. Bonus (or warning): your car may smell like herbs afterward!
In a Dehydrator
Dehydrators work similarly to a very low-temp oven, with some fans involved also. They can be used for drying herbs, fruit (apple rings!), veggies, or even fruit puree to make fruit strips. If you often end up with extra produce, or enjoy dried fruit, a dehydrator may be a great investment to shrink and store your fruit and veggies. Lots of different versions of food dehydrators can be found on Amazon (affiliate link).
Around the House
If you live in a dry climate, or if you have a spot in your house that stays dry and has good airflow (perhaps near a heater) you can easily dry the herbs by themselves. A hanging herb drying rack provides great airflow and keeps your herbs off of your counter and out of the way while they are drying.
A cookie cooling rack or airbake pizza pan is also a good option if you have one on hand. For evergreen or woody herbs like rosemary and thyme, you can tie them into a little bouquet and hang them to dry.
If your home is very warm or humid, herbs may dry better in the open air of the fridge or freezer.
In the Freezer
This often-forgotten trick works for preserving so many different foods! Place your herbs in a bag, or uncovered on a plate or platter straight in the freezer. Left uncovered, they are likely to dry out in the freezer (making it smell nice in the process). In a bag, you can simply crush them (frozen herb leaves are easier to remove from the stem) and add them to recipes as needed.
You can also freeze the herbs in cubes of broth or cooking oil (as you’ve probably already seen on Pinterest or cutesy magazines). This freezer method probably works best for any herbs that get too brown when dried using the other methods (like basil).
Let Them “Go to Seed”…. Then Plant Them Again
If you think about it, probably the reason you wanted to grow fresh herbs in the first place, is because you wanted FRESH herbs. So why bother drying them at all when you can grow them again for free or cheap?
Starting a garden can be easier than you think, especially if you use my method and tips from this post. Most herbs are also easy to grow in pots, even indoors. Potted herbs are easy to find in many grocery stores for a good price, so why not bring one home and give it a try? They don’t live forever anyway, so it’s not a big deal even if you think you have a brown thumb (find solutions to that problem here)!
Or check out some of the awesome beginner-proof herb garden kits or bottle gardens from Urban Leaf below!
Once your plants become fully mature and have flowers or seed pods forming, just let them go, and then dry and re-plant the seeds. If you’re growing a perennial herb like thyme, rosemary, etc, cut it back to the last healthy section and let it start over again!
For shorter-lived annual herbs (like basil, cilantro, dill), the best way to have a continual supply is to plant just a few at first, then plant another set of seeds a month or so later. When one set gets too big or dies, plant again, and so forth. In my opinion, basil is one plant that is best to use up quickly and start over again. Often times once a plant has flowers or seeds forming, the leaves have begun to get more bitter-tasting anyway.