How to Dry Herbs You Can Use for Cooking and Crafting
Your garden's herbs don't have to be enjoyed only during your summer harvest! Ward off the winter blues by preserving summer flavors and scents with our tips to dry your herbs so you can experience them any time of year.
Fresh summer herbs vanish quickly once winter arrives. Luckily, you can continue to enjoy herbs from your garden throughout the seasons by learning how to dry herbs at home. For most herbs, this is easy to do and doesn't require much time, so it's well worth the effort—especially when you consider how much dried herbs cost in the grocery store. Figuring out the best method for drying each herb variety may take a little trial and error, so it's a good idea to keep a journal to record your successes, discoveries, and inspirations. Here are some basic guidelines to get you started.
The best time for harvesting herbs is in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the afternoon sun has sapped the plants' color and fragrance. For the health of the remaining plants, leave a few inches of stem on each as you make your cuttings. (And never harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time.)
Tip: Many hardware stores and nurseries have seed-starting supplies, which are perfect for kicking off your garden indoors on a sunny windowsill. This is a great way to enjoy fresh herbs during the colder months and to get a jump on the spring planting season.
Hanging herbs in bundles is the simplest drying method. Gather together three to six sprigs and secure the stems with string, yarn, or a rubber band. Hang the bundles upside down in a dry, dark place (sunlight will diminish color, fragrance, and flavor). A well-ventilated attic or basement works well. Your herbs should be fully dry within about a week (probably less). For cooking herbs, make sure the plants are brittle, then remove the leaves and store them in airtight jars or bags. For crafts projects and other creative endeavors, you may have better results with herbs that are still a bit moist.
Related: How to Cook with Fresh Herbs
Alternatively, if you don't have room for hanging herbs, you can also lay them flat to dry. After rinsing them and patting them dry with a paper towel, spread out the herb sprigs on a sheet of waxed paper so they don't overlap one another. Let them dry, undisturbed, at room temperature out of direct sunlight. See below for approximate times on how long the herbs will need to dry, whether you choose to hang them in bundles or leave them to dry flat. The amount of time can vary quite a bit, depending on the humidity and temperature, the freshness of your herbs, and the size of the leaves.
- Basil—6 days
- Chives—24 hours
- Dill—24 hours
- Marjoram—1½ days
- Mint—1½ days
- Oregano—4 days
- Rosemary—4 days
- Sage—4 days
- Summer Savory—4 days
- Tarragon—2 days
- Thyme—2½ days
Tip: To determine if your herbs are done drying, crush a few leaves between your fingers. A completely dry herb should crumble easily.
If you want to work with your herbs the day you harvest them, dry them in the microwave. Place herbs in a single layer between two paper towels; microwave 1 minute, testing for dryness every 20 seconds. Once the herbs are dry, remove the stems. This is the speediest way to dry herbs for cooking or other projects, but it only works with some types of herbs. While some herbs can hold up in the microwave, delicate herbs will wither and turn brown. So save the microwave for woody herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano rather than more delicate herbs like basil and parsley.
If you have a dehydrator, you can use it to dry out your herbs faster than hanging them to dry. To prep herbs for the dehydrator, pull the leaves of small-leaf herbs—like oregano, thyme, and rosemary—off their stems. For broad-leaf herbs like basil and sage, strip the leaves from the stems and cut them in half (you can also leave them whole, but cutting them will decrease the dehydrating time). Cut chives into ¼- to ½-inch pieces.
Place prepared herbs on the dehydrator tray. If the herb leaves are small, line your dehydrator with a mesh or leather dehydrator sheet. Dehydrate at 95°F until the leaves are crisp enough to crumble. If the leaves are blowing around during the dehydrating process, place another dehydrator sheet on top of the herbs to hold them in place. Cool the dehydrated herbs before storing them. See the list below for the approximate length of time each herb needs to spend in the dehydrator to be dry enough to crumble.
- Basil—18 hours
- Chives—7 hours
- Dill—12 hours
- Marjoram—5 hours
- Mint—8 hours
- Oregano—12 hours
- Rosemary—12 hours
- Sage—8 hours
- Summer Savory—20 hours
- Tarragon—17 hours
- Thyme—5 hours
Moisture-absorbing substances speed the process of drying herbs, and they preserve the colors and shapes of your prettiest sprigs. Sand, borax, and cornmeal are traditional drying agents (but don't use sand, borax or silica gel to dry any herbs you want to use for cooking). To desiccant-dry flowers—such as the pink, spherical blooms of chives—put them in a container and cover them with clean, dry sand or a mixture of one part borax to three parts cornmeal. Leave the container open to allow for evaporation. The blooms should be dry in three to five days. Silica gel, available at crafts stores, has lighter granules that are less likely to damage petals. For most uses, pour about an inch of gel into a moisture-tight plastic, metal, or glass container; add herbs; then cover them with more gel. Drying time will vary from about two to 10 days. Use a small paintbrush to remove crystals between the petals.
Between these four drying methods, your fresh herbs will never need to go to waste again, whether you pick them from your own garden or pick up a bounty at your local farmers market. Once your herbs are dried, store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to one year. Or, if you don't want to wait to dry a big batch of herbs, you can learn how to freeze them, too!