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How to Dry Fresh Herbs

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Herb GardenThis year, we’ve decided to grow a bunch of herbs we enjoy on a regular basis because buying them in the store costs way too much and they lack the flavor of fresh herbs. Our basil, thyme, dill, mint and oregano are all growing like crazy in planters on our deck. If you’ve ever grown herbs, you know that you end up with far more than you could possibly use.

Herbs get their flavor from their oils. This is why you can get a good whiff of an herb’s flavor by rubbing your hands on the leaves and smelling them afterwards (much easier than trying to smell the leaves directly – that gem of a tip comes from my cousins Jonathan and Kate). This is why air drying herbs late in the summer is the best way to maintain flavor.

First, it’s best to only dry those spices that retain a lot of their flavor when dried. Not all herbs are created equal and it’s better to freeze herbs with a high moisture content.

  • Air dry: Sage, mint, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, oregano, and dill all taste good when dried.
  • Freeze: Basil, parsley, cilantro and chives lose a bunch of their flavor when dried, so consider freezing instead.

Next, cut the herbs at the stem near the middle of the day. You want the morning moisture to dry off but before the leaves wilt from the sun. Remove any dry or diseased leaves. Hang them upside down so the stems dry straight. Make the knot tight as the stem will shrink as it dries. Check in frequently and take down the herbs when they can crumble in your fingers (but don’t).

When you take them down, store them whole in a container (or plastic zip-lock bag), put in a cool dark place, and use them for up to a year (for max flavor). Avoid crumbling them as they retain more flavor whole. Date your container if necessary or just look at the color before you use them, if they lose their color, they’ve probably lost a bit of flavor.

This year, we’ll hopefully get a nice batch of dried herbs to use in the winter for soups and stews!

(Photo: fairfaxcounty)

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11 Responses to “How to Dry Fresh Herbs”

  1. I think you mislabeled this one.

    I think this much more about “Better Living” than “Frugal Living”. Sure, you may end up saving some money, but growing your own herbs, veg etc is for me much more about improving the quality of my food, and general enjoyment and moving away from all the processed crap.

    Plus, I trace my heritage back to many, many generations of farmers which may explain the deep satisfaction I get from growing veggies and herbs. I don’t have much arable real estate to play with (city life…), but everytime I look out the window and see my tiny garden, I smile.

    • echidnina says:

      I think it’s both better living AND frugal living. You can get a ton of uses out of one plant, which is very little investment. If you cook a lot, a windowsill herb garden can save you quite a bit of money.

  2. Ace says:

    Thanks for the info Jim. I actually a small area next to my home that I’ve been wanting to fill in with planters of herbs. How much did it cost to get everything started? Also, how much work is it to maintain the herbs?

    • Martha says:

      I found that it costs ~$2.00 per plant at nurseries and at home improvement stores. At grocery stores and farmers markets the prices can be over $3.50! Shop wisely and you can get a lot of fresh herbs for less than $10 including the cost of a planter.

      Check out Wal-mart or other discount stores for cheap gardening supplies. And don’t forget mint always has to be in it own pot, otherwise it will take over the world!

  3. Wilma says:

    I store all my herbs in glass jars and I bought an herb mill to grind my herbs. I absolutely love going out to my garden to pluck herbs for cooking. I’m becoming more and more disillusioned with going out to eat or ready to eat grocery store foods. The chemicals are just too apparent. My garden is my food heaven. =)

  4. lostAnnfound says:

    While I don’t use it for cooking, I do have a lavender plant near the back steps & when I come home I love to run my hand over it and release the scent.

  5. eric says:

    I’m a huge huge fan of cilantro. I know a lot of people who hate it for some reason but I like it in a lot of things. I’m just an herb flavor kind of person :)

    • echidnina says:

      I love most herbs, but I’m afraid cilantro I just can’t stand. I’ve heard there’s a compound in cilantro that makes it taste bad to some people, it’s supposedly genetic. I wish I could appreciate it like some people seem to, but it just tastes rotten to me.

  6. Dawn says:

    I love herbs but don’t have the time to dry and store them.This is just a suggestion on how to save something out of planting your own herbs.I have a gardenful of oregano at home. I say a gardenfuI because like you said, herbs grow like crazy. I still like them fresh and I planted oregano to treat my cough. I used to take cough syrups but the cough just kept coming back and I kept spending more and more money on medicine. A friend told me to plant oregano as an alternative to cure a cough, so i took her advice. Just squeeze the fresh leaves until you have a tablespoon full. You can take it just like that but I prefer to put some sugar in it to regulate the taste. I take it 3 times a day and my cough is usually gone within a few days. It worked for me but consulting the doctor first is good too.

  7. Bob says:

    Instead of placing the herbs in a plastic bag, can they sealed in a jar?

    • Anonymous says:

      No – if they have any moisture they will probably grow mouldy. However, you could put them in the jar and then freeze them.


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