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How To Dry Fresh Herbs For Storage (4 Ways To Save Your Summer Harvest)

Most of us are familiar with canning, even if you don’t know how to do the process yourself (stay tuned next week for more food preservation techniques like canning and pickling) but there’s another way to process and store your harvest, and it works especially well for herbs.

You can very easily dry your own herbs at home to use as a seasoning in your favorite recipes, to make a cup of soothing tea, or in any other imaginable craft.

There are four main ways to preserve herbs: air drying, baking, dehydrating, or freezing. Each method of preservation has its benefits, and some ways are more cost-effective than others.

Why dry your own herbs when you can buy them so cheaply at the store?

Although there’s no way to know how long pre-packaged herbs have been sitting on the shelf, you’ll know that your homegrown herbs are as fresh as possible. When preserved correctly, dried herbs have a shelf life of two years or more, retaining their flavor longer than store-bought herbs.

Freezing or drying herbs at home can save you money in the long run, especially if you cook a lot. Preserving herbs is an easy way to minimize food waste from a productive garden, and it just makes sense when you have such a prolific harvest that you can’t use it all when it’s fresh. 

In this post we’ll discuss some of the best herbs for drying and detailed instructions for how to dry and freeze fresh herbs for your favorite recipe.  

The best herbs for preserving

You can preserve any herb that you want! Of course, some herbs dry easier than others due to leaf size and overall moisture content. We’d recommend starting with flat-leafed kitchen herbs before branching out to more tender herbs like dill. You can freeze virtually any herb. 

Basil

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to preserve and retains much of its original flavor and aroma when dried or frozen. Puree basil leaves with oil and freeze them for an easy pesto that will elevate your next pasta night.

Parsley

Packed with vitamin C, dried parsley is a healthy and flavorful addition to any dish, especially wintertime soups and stews. Parsley responds well to most preservation methods 

Cilantro

A must-grow for foodies everywhere, cilantro is an easy herb to dry or freeze. Add dried cilantro to any Mexican-inspired dish, or use frozen cilantro to make fresh salsa out of season.

Rosemary

The waxy leaves of rosemary are incredibly easy to dry, or you can freeze whole stems if you crave the taste of fresh rosemary in the winter. Dried rosemary is a little less potent than fresh, and some cooks prefer ground rosemary to whole leaves due to dried rosemary’s brittle texture.

Thyme

The easiest way to preserve fresh thyme is to dry or freeze whole thyme stems and strip the stems of their leaves when a recipe calls for this aromatic herb.

Oregano

One of the most versatile culinary herbs, it never hurts to have a supply of dried oregano in your cabinet. Some cooks argue that oregano tastes even better dried than fresh, and luckily oregano is as easy to dry as it is to grow.

Mint

Of all the herbs you could grow, mint is the one that you’ll most likely have an abundance of. The prolific plant grows through vigorously spreading roots, so cut as much as you can and dry it to make your own delicious mint tea later on. You can also freeze mint with water in an ice cube tray to garnish a cold drink!

Dill

Try air-drying dill by bunching it and hanging it upside down to dry the delicate leaves. Use dried dill in any recipe that calls for fresh dill—we love to use it in potato salad.

Chives

Add a hint of onion to any dish with dried chives (or for a more garlicky flavor try Geisha).

4 methods to preserve homegrown herbs

Each method of drying herbs has its own timeline, but you’ll know your herbs are done when the leaves are crispy and crumble when touched. Once the drying process is complete, transfer them to an airtight container. Dried herbs will last two to three years when processed correctly, regardless of the method.

1. Air drying

By far the simplest way to dry herbs, hanging bunches of herbs upside down is an easy and economical way to preserve herbs for later use. 

Harvest herbs for air drying by cutting long stems, like you would cut flowers. If you have the space, you can lay out the stems on a screen or table in a well-ventilated area to dry.

Alternatively, you can bunch the stems together, secure them with a rubber band, then tie twine around the stems and hang them upside down. Protect your herb bunches from sun and bugs by covering them with a paper bag, which will also catch any seeds that fall off the plants.

Both methods of air drying take about a week. 

2. Dehydrating

If you have the equipment, dehydrating herbs is the best way to retain their flavor and appearance. If you plan to dehydrate a lot of herbs (or fruits and vegetables) it might be worth investing in a food dehydrator. Dehydrators range in size from small kitchen implements to commercial-grade dehydrators.

It’s best to remove the leaves from the stems before transferring the leaves to a mesh tray, as this will save space and dehydrate more efficiently. Lay the leaves out in a single layer to ensure even drying. Use the lowest possible setting and allow the herbs to dehydrate for anywhere between two and four hours, checking the herbs periodically until the leaves have crisped.

3. Baking

Microwaving is one of the fastest ways to dry herbs, but this method results in the least flavor overall.

Before you pop your herbs in the microwave, remove the leaves from the stems and place the leaves between two paper towels. Microwave for one minute, then check. Continue to microwave the herbs for 30 seconds at a time until the herbs are crispy.

If you have a little more time on your hands, try this same method in the oven for a more flavorful end result. Set the oven to preheat on the lowest possible temperature setting, around 180 degrees for most conventional ovens.

Prepare the herbs the same way by separating the leaves from the stems, and placing them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or cheesecloth. Leave the oven door open and bake for 30 minutes. Check the herbs and if they aren’t quite crispy, continue baking in 30-minute intervals until the leaves are crispy.

4. Freezing

Freezing is actually the best preservation method for tender herbs like basil, chives, cilantro, and parsley since these herbs naturally contain more water.

One benefit of freezing herbs is that you can use frozen herbs in the same ratio that you would fresh herbs. No need to reduce the amount called for in the recipe, since frozen herbs are no more concentrated than fresh herbs.

There are a number of creative ways to freeze herbs. Try out a few of these methods to find out what works best for you and your kitchen:

  • Finely chop herbs and transfer them to an ice cube tray, then top the tray with olive oil.
  • Place chopped herbs in freezer bags with a drizzle of oil.
  • Puree herbs with oil in a food processor or blender, then transfer to a jar. (You can keep pureed herbs in the fridge if you plan to use them more frequently.)
  • Place leaves (or whole stems) on a cookie sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer the herbs to a freezer bag.

Though they may look wilted when thawed, frozen herbs will taste most similar to fresh herbs in flavor. 

Frozen herbs have a shorter shelf life than dried herbs, as they only keep between six and twelve months. Fresh herbs only keep for about two weeks in the produce section of a refrigerator.

Whichever way you decide to preserve your herbs, make sure that you clearly label each package with a date and name! Once herbs are in bags and finely chopped, it can be difficult to sort out what’s what (unless you cook enough that a simple smell test will tell you all you need to know).

Storing and using dried herbs

It goes without saying, but make sure that the herbs are completely dry before you transfer them to a container. Any moisture left in the herbs will mold and cause the whole batch to go bad. Check dried herbs often for signs of mold and throw out any herbs as soon as you notice signs of mildew.

If possible, store herbs in an airtight container out of direct light for the longest shelf life, as sunlight can degrade the flavor of dried herbs.

While it’s perfectly okay to chop dried herbs, if you have the space to store whole leaves the flavors will be more potent when you add them to your favorite recipe.

Although the most popular use of dried herbs is in recipes, you can also make your own tea by steeping dried herbs like mint or lavender in hot water and straining out the plant matter.

Keep in mind that dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs, so you really need less quantity to achieve the same amount of flavor. A good rule of thumb is to use 1/4 the amount of dried herbs as you would for fresh. Do a taste test, and if the recipe needs more spice, sprinkle away!

Dried herbs can be used in place of fresh herbs in most recipes. Dried herbs are perfect for stews, soups, and other recipes that require cooking, while fresh herbs make a better garnish and are ideal for salads and salsas.

Preserving your homegrown herbs is a great way to have them on hand for later use. Each of the four methods will result in slightly different outcomes, and some methods are easier or more economical than others. Regardless, preserving homegrown herbs (either by air drying, dehydrating, baking, or freezing) is an excellent way to reduce food waste by putting your abundant garden harvest to good use outside the growing season.

Shop our online store for the full selection of non-GMO herb seeds.

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