Preserving and Drying Herbs
Very little compares to the sense of accomplishment and peace of mind from growing your own
food. When you purchase plants from a garden nursery center that have been grown
organically you can be ensured they have not been treated with harmful chemicals. You may
find a great deal on plants grown at farmer’s markets or in roadside stands, but please be aware
there are no guarantees those plants have been grown organically, or they are even the plants
advertised. If you purchase a tomato plant at a roadside stand, you can only assume they are
the actual plant advertised. You may think you’re purchasing a cherry tomato plant, only to
realize it’s a beefsteak instead!
Drying herbs that you grow yourself is a great way to ensure quality of product (there is no
possibility that your home-grown herbs were treated with harmful pesticides, such as store-
bought dried herbs might be). You can also use fresh herbs in your meals, understanding that if
a recipe calls for a specific amount of fresh herbs it is always more than dried herbs, which are
much more potent.
There are many great online articles about drying herbs, but please always consider the source,
as with anything you research online. Look for college extension articles, or from a source that
you know is reliable.
The basics of drying herbs you have grown yourself are pretty straightforward. The following
information is from University of Illinois Extension:
Herbs should be harvested in the morning, after any dew has disappeared.
You can remove as much as 75% of annual herbs (such as basil), but only around 30% of perennial herbs (such as thyme) at one time. This allows the plant to recover after harvesting.
Herbs should be harvested prior to flowers appearing. You may remove flowers (deadhead) to ensure adequate leaf production, and to avoid bitter taste of the. leaves.
Wash your harvested herbs, remove any damaged leaves or stems, and place on paper towels to air dry.
After herbs have been washed and allowed to air dry you may either bunch your herbs and hang them to dry (this may take up to one month), dry your herbs in a food dehydrator, oven dry your herbs, microwave your herbs, or place the leaves on a tray to dry.
You may also freeze your herbs, something I personally never considered!
Dried herbs should be stored in airtight containers. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning out
those old spice jars and filling them with your newly dried herbs. Dried herbs generally have a
shelf-life of six months, depending on where they were stored (in the cupboard, on top of your
kitchen counter, on the back of your stove). You may check for freshness of your dried herbs by
rubbing them between your fingers and smelling them for pungency. If they do not smell very
strong they probably aren’t.
As you can see drying and preserving herbs is not difficult. You do not need a large yard to
have an herb garden. Many herbs are very happy growing in a kitchen window, in a planter box
on a balcony in an apartment complex, or in a pot on your patio. Certain herbs should not be
planted next to one another, while others are great companion plants. For additional information
regarding companion planting and uses of herbs please check out our Herb Plant Guide on
herbs on our Recommended Resources page.