How To Dry Fresh Herbs Using a Food Dehydrator

Food dehydrators are very easy to use. Effectively and efficiently transforming your favorite ingredients as well as preserving their quality and flavor and extending shelf life often indefinitely.

Herbs are the perfect thing for dehydrators given the even distribution of warm air that is imparted within the machine. By preserving your herbs that are in abundance during the warmer seasons you can continue to enjoy them in the winter months and beyond. Food dehydrators help to make this process easy to do at home. 

The Benefits Of Drying Herbs With Dehydrators

Herbs were historically dried in bunches, hung about kitchens and larders, but as we’ve touched on already, the high water content of herbs means that this method can often lead to your herbs rotting, especially in humid, poorly ventilated environments when the air cannot move easily between each individual leaf.

Although hanging herbs is still used by many people (I for one always have stems of Bay and Rosemary hung above my cooker), modern technology such as food dryers and dehydrators have made herb drying a much quicker and more reliable process, and one we can all easily do at home, preferably with our own homegrown herbs. The benefit that a dehydrator has over a conventional oven is that it has been specifically designed with the drying process in mind. Slatted or wire mesh trays and more precise temperature gauges for example mean you’ll end up with a far higher quality of dried herbs and avoid any chances of burning and possible waste.

How To Dry Fresh Herbs In A Dehydrator / Drying Fresh Herbs In A Dehydrator - Your ‘How-To-Guide’

Of course every dehydrator will come with it’s own user guide and will vary slightly with regards to its settings, whilst each herb will require different amounts of drying time, but in general the basic process will be as follows:

  1. Prepare your dehydrator by preheating and setting the thermostat to the correct temperature. This will usually be between 95-115 °F. If you’re in a humid environment, you might need to increase this to 125 °F.
  2. Rinse your herbs in fresh water, shaking off the excess water and then gently patting them dry with kitchen paper or a clean towel.
  3. Lay the herbs out evenly in a single layer on the dehydrator trays, making sure none of them are touching or overlapping.

Large leaves such as Bay Leaf can be taken off the stem and laid out individually but small leaves such as Thyme can remain on their individual stem. Just make sure you’re laying out single stems and not bunches of them so that the warm air is able to fully circulate.

  1. It’s perfectly fine to dry a mixture of herbs together, there won’t be any crossing or blending of flavours but try to seperate them on different trays at least given the differing drying times they’ll likely have. If you are drying a mixture of herbs, check where the fan is on your dehydrator it’s location has a direct impact on the rate at which the herbs will dry. The closer to the fan they are the quicker they will dry. Ideally, the fan will be mounted at the back of the machine which means there will be an even distribution of air flowing throughout the drying process. However, fans can often be found at the top or the bottom of the machine, in which case you’ll want to stack your herbs accordingly. Stack the hardier herbs (i.e. the ones that will take longer to dry) closer to where the fan is located (top or bottom) and visa versa.
  2. As we’ve touched on already, the drying time will vary depending on the efficiency of your dehydrator and the moisture content of the herbs but in general, you’ll be looking at between 1 to 4 hours. Just as with a new oven or any new piece of kitchen equipment, you’ll soon learn what the perfect timings are. It’s always worth underestimating to start with, if your herbs aren’t fully dry, you can simply pop them back in for another drying cycle.
  3. Most dehydrators have a timer fitted to let you know when the drying process is complete, but it is still worth keeping and eye on them yourself and checking them regularly, especially if you’re new to the practice.
  4. Once the dehydrator has worked its magic and your herbs are completely dry (the leaves should crumble easily in your fingers and the stems should snap when bent), take them out and leave them to cool completely before storing. If you rush this part of the process you can risk condensation forming on the herbs which will ultimately mean they’ll rot and prove useless. As they say, patience is a virtue!
  5. Your herbs can be stored in whatever container you have to hand, be it glass jars, plastic zipper bags or tupperware. Just make sure they are airtight, thoroughly cleaned and sterilized if possible. If you’re using zipper bags, try to squeeze out as much air as you can.
  6. Label your containers with the date and contents.
  7. Your herbs should then be stored in a cool, dark location be it your larder, pantry, kitchen cupboard or similar. Just remember that any exposure to direct sunlight will reduce their shelf life.
  8. Remember to check your herbs regularly (at least once a month, if not more), rotating them and being sure you’re using them in date order, eg. keeping the most recently dried herbs at the back.
  9. To enjoy the best flavour from your dried herbs, aim to use them within six months to a year BUT this does not mean herbs kept for longer periods won’t be safe to eat. So long as there are no signs of spoiling (eg. mould and rot) you mustn’t panic and feel any pressure to use them all at once as they will keep for years and won’t do you any harm if consumed well past that 1 year mark. If there are signs of spoilage, it might not be to the entire batch. Use your common sense, you’ll know if something isn’t worth eating, just like when jam goes a little mouldy on top, it’s still perfectly fine to eat when that layer of mould is scrapped off, so the same applies here. Just discard what’s spoiled and try to use up what’s left as soon as possible.

What Herbs Can I Use In A Dehydrator?

The great news is that you can dry any herb you like, there are no rules so it’s truly up to you but it does of course make sense to dry the herbs you enjoy using the most.

This is particularly relevant to seasonal or biennial herbs, so if you’ve not managed to use them up before the end of their life cycle, drying is the perfect answer to making the most out of your crop and making sure nothing goes to waste.

The drying time will be different for each herb, depending on their individual moisture content as well as your dehydrator but you’ll be looking at anything from 1 to 4 hours drying time on average.

Summary Of The Top Tips For Drying Fresh Herbs With A Dehydrator

If you’re new to herb growing and or the drying and dehydrating of herbs, you’re in the right place. This article and our wider blog covers and provides all the information you might need for understanding the process and the steps you can take for the best results.

Here’s quick summary of our hints and tips to help you nail the drying of herbs in a dehydrator:

  • Harvest - Pick and harvest your herbs early in the morning when the essential oils within the herbs will be at their best .
  • Clean - Wash your herbs before they go in the dehydrator, removing any excess water with a paper towel.
  • Tray Management - Make sure the herbs don’t overlap. Arrange in the dehydrator according to the location of your fan.
  • Cooling - Make sure your herbs are completely dry before storing.
  • Storage - Label your air-tight containers with the date and contents before moving them to a cool, dark place. Check them regularly.

If the drying process of food preservation is of particular interest, please head over to the blog homepage where you’ll find more articles on the topic.

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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