Drying herbs for storage

Drying herbs not only requires little effort but also little equipment. There is no denying that fresh herbs will pack the best punch of flavour and therefore more widely preferred but that doesn’t mean that dried herbs are any less useful or flavoursome. 

If dried and stored correctly, dried herbs can be just as, if not more intense due to the concentration of their flavour from the drying process. As such, some recipes may only call for dried herbs. Dried herbs are easily stored in your kitchen cupboard  and you can have a wide variety available to you throughout the year. 

One important point to note is that most herbs have a relatively high water content which means they can be prone to rotting. It is therefore essential that you follow the drying steps correctly to avoid any such mishaps. The good news is you're in the right place to learn how! 

Picking and Harvesting Your Herbs

Like a lot of things in life, timing is everything and the drying of herbs is no exception. It’s important to pick your herbs before the plant goes into flower and more specifically on warm, dry mornings, once any dew has evaporated but before the sun gets too strong and affects any of the essential oils in the herb leaf. 

What Herbs To Dry

You can dry any herb you like, although some will of course take longer due to their size and be more preferable to certain drying methods there are no herbs which are ‘off-limits’.  

Here’s a little guide to some suggested and popular herbs to try and how they can be used:

  • Bay Leaves - Add to slow cooked dishes like casseroles, stews, roasted meat or vegetables. Be sure to remove the leaves from the dish before it’s eaten. 
  • Rosemary - Use for roasting meats and vegetables, adding to casseroles, stews, marindes 
  • Sage - Popular in Italian cuisine, pork, roasted vegetables, soups
  • Dill - Flavouring dips, marinades, roasted chicken, roasted potatoes
  • Mint - Add to curries, stews, casseroles, soups, use as meat rubs, sprinkled over fruit
  • Thyme - Use in marinades, roasted and slow cooked meats, roasted vegetables, casseroles, soups, lentils or stews
  • Lavender - Make homemadeLavender Bags’ to add fragrance to your clothes drawers and wardrobes which also act as moth repellents. Or use in homemade potpourri. 

Herb Drying Methods

Herbs can be air dried in bunches but it is much better to spread them out over mesh or wire racks.

As touched on in our ‘Growing Herbs Indoors All Year Round’ article there are four main methods for drying herbs which are outlined here below. It is completely up to you if you want to stripe the leaves of your herbs from their stems before or after the drying process, it really depends on how tightly packed the leaves are and thus how much air will be able to move between and dry them out. 

Air Drying - The slowest method of drying herbs but nonetheless a very effective way to preserve them. The slow process can actually help retain the essential oils in the herbs which means they’re more likely to retain their flavour. 

There are a few key things for successful air drying of herbs:

  • Temperature - They will of course dry faster in warmer temperatures but you must be careful not to over-heat them. Whether you’re drying them in an airing cupboard or in your kitchen, gentle heat is what you’re aiming for.
  • Sunlight - Keep your herbs away from direct sunlight as this will fade their colour.
  • Air-flow - Good ventilation with a constant flow and circulation of air.
  • Humidity -  Damp conditions mean there is moisture in the air and therefore don’t make good environments for air-drying.

Herbs can be air dried in bunches but it is much better to spread them out over mesh or wire racks. Drying them individually will take up more room but when the herbs aren’t packed tightly together you will be more certain of avoiding any mould or rot occuring during the drying process. Bay, Mint, Lavender, Rosemary and Thyme are ideal herbs for air-drying. 

Oven Drying - Quicker than air drying but the thing to be careful and aware of here is the avoidance of burning your herbs. You may have a few failed attempts before you understand the best temperature you should set your oven at for each individual herb. Simply strip the herbs from their stems and spread them over a wire rack, set the oven at its lowest heat (max temp of 100 degrees), place the rack in the oven for 30mins, leaving the door slightly open so that the excess moisture can escape. After 30mins is up, take the herbs out, turn them over and place them back in the oven for a further 30mins before switching the oven off and leaving the herbs inside to cool. Some methods suggest placing muslin over the herbs during their oven drying but it’s not always necessary. Hardy more robust herbs such as Thyme or Rosemary are ideal for oven drying. 

Microwave Drying - If time is of the essence, microwave drying is the way to go. This is by far the quickest way to dry herbs because microwaves specifically target water content. Drying your herbs in a microwave also retains their green colour as well as their fresh taste but you do need to take care and pay close attention during the process. Lay your herbs sandwiched between two pieces of kitchen roll before placing them in the microwave and blasting them on a high setting for around 60 seconds before checking them and then repeating the process for another 30 seconds and so on until they’re dry. It shouldn’t take any longer than 5 minutes. 

Dehydrating - Similar to oven drying in lots of ways, a dehydrator will remove any moisture from your herbs, and leave them completely dry and ready to store for the long term. Dehydrators have different levels of racks, that you lay your herbs out on to be dried.

The best way to Store Dried Herbs

So long as the herbs have been dried thoroughly, they will keep for years.

Always Sterilize your Jars Before adding Herbs, of Food items for Storage. See our Article - Sterilizing Jars for Jams, Pickles, Fermenting, and Canning (Opens in a new tab) for all the information.

Once dried, you can consider the following options for how you store your herbs for future use: 

  • Jarring - Be it glass jars such as Kilner Preserve Jars (opens in new tab), plastic tupperware or plastic bags, the one thing they must be is air-tight to avoid any moisture entering and causing the herbs to rot. Simply strip the dried herb leaves from the stems and either leave them whole or crush them down with a pestle and mortar or a rolling pin so they can be easily poured into your chosen container. If you are using glass or clear containers make sure they are stored in a dark place (eg. kitchen cupboards) away from direct sunlight to avoid them fading in colour. As with anything you might be storing for future use, be sure to label and date the containers so you know what’s inside and when it was made. 
  • Hanging - Bunch your herbs and tie them together with string to hang in your kitchen so you can easily pick what you want, when you want. Hang them in bunches of the same herb or, as highlighted later in this article, make them into bouquet garnis. 
  • Freezing - Freezing dried herbs is an excellent way to further prolong their shelf life and mixing up the ways in which they can be used.  You can freeze dried herbs as they are, be it with the leaves being left on the stem or stripped away and simply poured into an air-tight plastic food bag, in the quantities you’ll likely want to use them at a later date. Another way to use dried herbs, just as you might with fresh herbs is to sprinkle them into ice cube trays and top them with water or stock so they can be easily popped out and dropped into sauces, soups, stews. 

Other Ideas For Herbs

Bouquet Garnis

A ‘bouquet garnis’ is the French word  for “garnished bouquet”’ and is in essence a bundle of herbs that has been tied together with a piece of string to be used in flavouring casseroles, stews, soups etc. They are added during the cooking process and removed before serving.  Bouquet garnis are a fantastic way to use dried herbs as the bundles can be made once the herbs have been fully dried and then stored away for future use. 

Homemade Gifts

As touched on earlier in the article, you can use dried lavender in potpourri or even make small scented pouches by sewing together pieces of fabric and filling them with dried lavender which can be placed in amongst drawers or hung in wardrobes which won’t just give a wonderful fragrance but also help repel moths. 

Everyone can Grow and Dry Herbs

As this article demonstrates, herb drying is a wonderfully easy task and one that everyone and anyone can do at home. You’ll be rewarded with a generous supply of your favourite herbs and the ability to enhance any dish, at any time of the year. 

Ian Hunter

Ian Hunter - Father of three, based in Southern Sweden. Author and Co owner of Grow Zone and growing Food all winter. See my full About Page here.

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Co written with Hannah Bramley, a Private & Virtual PA and Lifestyle Management Consultant based in the UK. With a background in managing and ensuring the organisation and preparedness of others, Hannah is now a freelance Personal Lifestyle & Business Consultant, with the ability to turn her hand to any task. Self Sufficiency being just one of her new found interests since the events of early 2020. She is a fitness guru, an ardent foodie, a social media wizard and entrepreneur, with a passion and natural flare for organising, bringing people together and making things happen.

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