I checked several different sources for instructions and while each was a little bit different, I was able to pick up on the essentials and figure out how I could make it work for me. There are several different ways to dry herbs and some work better for certain kinds of herbs than others. It can be done in the oven or even a microwave and you can also dry them in a dehydrator. All sources agreed that air-drying is the easiest, cheapest and least labor-intensive. This can be done by spreading them on a screen or by the way I opted for, tying the herbs in small bunches and hanging them up.
- A space for drying herbs needs to be airy (to avoid mold), out of direct sunlight and have a temperature of 68 to 90 degrees F. Not having a shed, barn or screened porch, I decided to use my bedroom. It’s on the north side of the house and I usually keep a fan running at night, so I figured it would do. I got some eyelet screws, installed five of them on opposite sides of the room up near the ceiling and strung twine from them in a zig-zag pattern.
- My sources said the optimum time for harvesting the herbs is right before they bloom and in the morning after the dew has dried, on a sunny day. Wash the cut herbs thoroughly with cool running water, shake out the excess water and either dry them in the sun or pat them dry with paper towels. If you plan on using them for cooking, remove any insect-nibbled leaves. Note: I thought I was thorough in my washing, but the next day I found two lime green inchworms merrily inching along their way on my bedroom wall. At least they were easy to spot!
- Tie the stalks in small bunches using string or rubber bands. I used the same twine I had used to string from the ceiling and plastic-coated paper clips (twisted into hooks) to hang them, well-spaced, on the twine. The time it takes the herbs to dry evidently varies (according to the temperature, etc.) and can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks. You want to make sure the leaves are dry and crumbly to the touch or else they could mold in storage. I actually got busy and left mine up there for about a month, so I was delightfully surprised when the aroma of the herbs when crumbled was still strong.
- I used a piece of 18 x 24 inch sketching paper to strip and crumble the dried leaves onto. Then I poured them into glass jars with an air-tight lid. You can also store them in air-tight wooden or tin containers or paper bags. (Plastic is not recommended.)
Dried herbs can be used in many ways such as, in potpourri, soaps, lotions, added directly to bath water, for making tea, in cooking, in making herb-infused oils, vinegars and butters, and numerous other ways. I’m planning on making little spearmint sachets to tuck in the places where my cats sleep to drive away fleas. But that’s another adventure!
Join us for these upcoming Master Gardener programs:
Thursday August 14, 2014 | 7-8:00PM | Marvin Auditorium 101C | Fall Vegetable Garden
Thursday September 11, 2014 | 7-8:00PM | Marvin Auditorium 101A | Shrubs